Padres' pitching pursuit has a wrinkle

Friars would be penalized if they sign a free agent who rejected a qualifying offer

December 7th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres view the front end of their starting rotation as one of the best in the Majors. The back end? Well, they're working on that.

"We're going to look to add a starter or two here in the next couple of weeks," general manager A.J. Preller said on Tuesday, speaking at his media availability on Day 2 of the Winter Meetings in downtown San Diego.

The departures of Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea, along with the midseason trade that sent MacKenzie Gore to Washington has left the Padres searching for rotation options.

They have a number of candidates in-house, having brought back on a three-year deal and having reached a deal with on a Minor League contract. Left-hander is expected to be stretched toward a starter's workload, Preller said, and multiple times this week Preller has reinforced the importance of the Padres' Triple-A depth options at stepping up.

But that isn't enough. The Padres want another starter -- and likely more than one.

"Again, I think we feel like the depth in the system, the guys at the Triple-A level that pitched for us this year, we anticipate them helping us this year and being ready to come in and compete,” Preller said.

"Obviously, the four at the big league level, Martinez being the fourth, any of those guys have spots for us going into Spring Training. But I think we're going to look to continue to add there and try to have some more possibilities for [pitching coach] Ruben [Niebla] and for [manager] Bob [Melvin]."

Those four would be , , and Martinez. But it seems unlikely that the Padres would settle at five starting pitchers, considering how much success they had in 2022, opening the year with a six-man staff and at times expanding to seven.

"It's always top priority, having depth and having numbers," Preller said. "And we'll keep looking at adding in that area."

Added Melvin: "You can never have too much starting pitching."

With depth as the priority, the Padres notably weren't in on Justin Verlander or Jacob deGrom, the prized arms of this offseason. But they're certainly involved in the next tier of starters.

That next tier of starters includes a few who rejected qualifying offers, which means the Padres -- who exceeded the Competitive Balance Tax threshold in 2022 -- would be penalized if they were to sign any of those players. They'd forfeit their second and fifth picks, along with $1 million from their international signing pool, though Preller noted, "If this is the right situation, the right player, we'll look to do something there -- it won't stop us from signing a player."

One player not tied to any compensation is Japanese right-hander Kodai Senga, who is headed to the big leagues next season. The 29-year-old Senga has posted a 2.59 ERA across 11 seasons in NPB, and Preller acknowledged his team’s interest, without getting into specifics.

"He's a free agent, so we've talked about it," Preller said. "We've got a lot of history seeing Kodai Senga pitch in NPB. He's obviously a very accomplished pitcher. ... He's a talent. We always want to be in a spot where if you have impact talent, especially coming from Japan, we're going to be prepared and ready to make a decision. We'll see where it leads for us in regards to Senga."

Regarding reports that Senga has received multiple offers, Preller wouldn't comment on whether the Padres are one of them. But this much is clear: The Padres have learned their lessons of the past two seasons.

In 2021, they had a thin rotation and didn't upgrade it at the Trade Deadline. They floundered down the stretch, with ailing starters and a fried bullpen.

In 2022, the Padres had one of the sport’s deepest rotations. They flourished down the stretch, with a healthy rotation and a fresh bullpen.

They’d like a repeat of 2022.

"That's the value of starting pitching -- when you have guys every night that can take the ball and get you deep in a game with a chance to win," Preller said. "That's not really anything new. I think we understand that. It's just hard to find those kind of guys and create that depth and that quality."