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4 takeaways after Padres' trade with Rays

Bullpen depth is main outlook after Pagán acquired
@AJCassavell
February 9, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- All winter, the Padres' bullpen has projected as one of the best in baseball. And that was before right-hander Emilio Pagán -- a strikeout artist who posted a 2.31 ERA last season -- joined the ranks. In a move that further solidified the Padres' relief corps, San

SAN DIEGO -- All winter, the Padres' bullpen has projected as one of the best in baseball. And that was before right-hander Emilio Pagán -- a strikeout artist who posted a 2.31 ERA last season -- joined the ranks.

In a move that further solidified the Padres' relief corps, San Diego dealt center fielder Manuel Margot and catching prospect Logan Driscoll to the Rays in exchange for Pagán. It's the second trade between the two clubs this winter after the Padres landed Tommy Pham from Tampa Bay in November.

For San Diego, the deal makes an area of strength even stronger. It also brings further question marks to an outfield mix that already had plenty of them. Here are four takeaways from Saturday's swap:

1) The Padres' bullpen might be the best -- and deepest -- in baseball

On Sunday, MLB Network produced its rankings of the 10 best relievers in baseball. Unsurprisingly, Kirby Yates sat at the top. Yates has been one of the sport's best bullpen arms for three seasons now, but he took his game to another level last year, posting a 1.19 ERA with an absurd 15 strikeouts per nine innings.

Now, Yates has an elite bullpen to set him up. The Padres splurged on Drew Pomeranz in free agency earlier this winter, and he becomes a lefty complement to Pagán in the late innings. Righty Andres Muñoz and lefty José Castillo could help in those capacities as well. Meanwhile, Craig Stammen and Matt Strahm will help fill the gap from starters to back-end.

"We're going to shorten games," one Padres official said after the trade.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from San Diego's pursuit of bullpen depth is its desire to ease the burden on its younger relievers. Muñoz might be the closer of the future, but he's 21 and throws 101 mph. Castillo, meanwhile, missed nearly all of last season due to injury.

With strong options available for every situation, those relievers shouldn't be overworked. Plus, if one or two of them struggle -- and volatility is to be expected -- the Padres have enough pieces to make up for it.

2) The pitching staff might be full

With a month and a half until Opening Day, it'd be foolish to lock in San Diego's 13-man pitching staff. But barring injury, there won't be many places available. The starting rotation should include Chris Paddack, Garrett Richards, Dinelson Lamet and Zach Davies, with Joey Lucchesi as the favorite over Cal Quantrill for the fifth spot.

That leaves eight places available in the bullpen (with roster-expansion rules setting a limit at 13 pitchers). Yates, Pomeranz, Pagán, Muñoz, Stammen, Strahm, Castillo and Pierce Johnson are the obvious favorites for those eight places.

That could leave Luis Perdomo, Javy Guerra, David Bednar, Trey Wingenter and Gerardo Reyes without jobs on Opening Day. It could also mean prospects Michel Baez and Adrian Morejon are more likely destined for a spot in a Minor League rotation than at the back of the bullpen.

Then again, it's foolish to project a pitching staff with any degree of certainty in February. Injuries happen, and a staff as young as this one is bound to experience some volatility. In that regard, all this depth is sort of the point.

3) Center field is wide open

The Padres entered the offseason with two of the sport's best defensive center fielders in Margot and Travis Jankowski. Following Saturday's trade, they're now left with five center-field options. But none of those five options have proven themselves capable of handling a full season in center.

Trent Grisham and Franchy Cordero are the early favorites. They're two of the team's best athletes and rangiest outfielders, even if their skills aren't quite as honed as Jankowski or Margot. It's also possible Wil Myers plays some center field as well, and Abraham Almonte might get a serious shot at a roster spot, too.

Perhaps this move also clears a path for Taylor Trammell, MLB Pipeline's No. 57 overall prospect. It still seems likely he opens the season in the Minors, but Trammell will make an impact in 2020 -- and it just might be in center.

Still, San Diego took a hit defensively by losing Margot, Jankowski and Hunter Renfroe this winter. If anything, Saturday's trade was a statement on baseball in 2020: the Padres have seemingly devalued outfield defense, because the ball isn't in play as often as it used to be. If pitchers (like Pagán) are striking hitters out at a 36 percent clip, the ball doesn't get to the outfield in the first place.

4) The Padres need a lefty bat to step up

Before Saturday, San Diego had a pretty safe platoon plan for its outfield. Pham would cover left, and the other two spots would go to a pair of lefties or a pair of righties -- depending on that day's starting pitcher. Margot, who posted an .886 OPS against lefties compared with a .620 mark against righties in 2019, was the perfect platoon piece.

Now the Padres need to make up for Margot's lost production against lefties. They can still start Pham and Myers. But they probably need to fill the other spot with a lefty bat, and Cordero, Grisham and Josh Naylor all have pronounced splits. They've all been much better against right-handed pitching than left.

Perhaps Trammell is the long-term answer. His numbers have been relatively even in the Minors. If anything, they're skewed better against lefties, even though he's a lefty hitter. But Trammell might not be big league ready, leaving a gaping hole in the lineup against left-handed pitching. Here’s an option: Perhaps bat-first catcher Francisco Mejía slides to the outfield to cover some of those starts, with Austin Hedges taking the lion's share of reps behind the dish.:

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.