Reliever Suarez signs 5-year deal with Padres

November 17th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- It's official: Robert Suarez is back.

The Padres' five-year deal with the electric right-hander was announced by the club on Thursday, a week after the two sides had come to an agreement. The deal is worth $46 million with a player opt-out after the first three seasons.

"I'm very grateful for what this means for me and my family," Suarez said Thursday, speaking in Spanish through a team interpreter. "At the end of the day, the hard work pays off."

For the Padres, the contract is a gamble. Suarez's big league track record is all of 47 2/3 innings long. But it's a gamble they were happy to take, considering the upside and the role they envision him playing.

For the 31-year-old Suarez, meanwhile, the contract serves as a suitable reward for an incredible journey. He spent his early 20s pitching in independent leagues in his native Venezuela, while working side jobs in construction and security.

But stuff plays, and Suarez's was too good to deny. He eventually made his way to Mexico and then Japan, where he was dominant at the back end of the bullpen -- sporting a fastball in the upper 90s and a devastating putaway changeup. Then, he signed a one-year deal with the Padres last offseason, added a curveball and continued to thrive.

Suarez posted a 2.27 ERA and was dominant for much of the postseason -- making his decision to opt out of his $5 million contract for 2023 an easy one. Still, Suarez made it clear he wanted to return to San Diego.

"There was definitely some interest [from other teams]," Suarez said. "We were able to negotiate and get something done in San Diego before we really engaged in other talks with other teams, which I'm very grateful for. I'm grateful for the opportunity to stay here."

The Padres, of course, paid a pretty penny in a relief market without many other lockdown options. They're banking much more on what they see and what they know of Suarez than his brief big league track record.

"A big part of it when you're signing a contract is the person," general manager A.J. Preller said. "For our situation, playing in some really big games down the stretch, Robert showed no fear. ... Robert's the guy we wanted to face New York, L.A. and Philly [in the playoffs]. We wanted him to face the best parts of the lineup. We wanted to make sure he was in there to face those guys.

"In the moments that were the most pressure-filled, Robert wanted the baseball, was calm and threw the ball great. For all those reasons, it was a situation where we were strong in wanting him back."

With Suarez on board, the back end of the Padres’ bullpen figures to be one of the most fearsome in the game. Entering the 2023 season, Suarez will serve as the bridge to closer Josh Hader.

But Hader is only under contract for one more season. The money the Padres committed to Suarez would seem to indicate they view him as their closer of the future if Hader were to leave via free agency next winter.

"What we saw this year with Robert is he's that type of pitcher -- a high-leverage guy," Preller said. "Obviously, we've got Josh Hader here, so we've got the luxury. ... It's a really nice pairing with him and Robert. But again, when you look at the commitment we made, we feel like Robert could pitch the seventh, eighth, ninth. He could pitch any of those spots against the best parts of a lineup.

"If you're winning a championship, you're going to need multiple guys who can do that. We feel like he's more than capable of doing that."

Suarez’s 2022 season began slowly, as he battled right knee inflammation that eventually required surgery and forced him to miss two months. But when he returned, he was lights out. Suarez pitched scoreless ball in 21 of his final 22 regular-season outings. He was dominant against the Mets and Dodgers in the playoffs and was integral in the team’s NLDS upset of L.A. But Suarez’s season came to a harsh end when he surrendered the two-run homer to Bryce Harper that sent Philadelphia to the World Series.

Still, the Padres saw enough to know they wanted Suarez at the back end of their bullpen for a long time. So they locked him up, fortifying one of the sport’s top relief corps. With Hader, Suarez, Tim Hill, Luis García, Steven Wilson and a potentially healthy Drew Pomeranz, Preller says the foundation is already in place.

“You’re always looking to add, especially bullpen arms, maybe get some guys with some different looks,” Preller said. “But I think the heavy lifting with the ‘pen, getting the main pieces in place, we feel good about where it’s at.”