What Musgrove deal means for Padres

January 20th, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- Over the past six months, Padres general manager A.J. Preller has swung a decade's worth of blockbuster trades. There are still 10 weeks remaining until Opening Day. Would you dare say that Preller is done?

Suffice it to say, Preller is never done. But his quest for big league-caliber starting pitching this winter probably is.

After landing in a three-team, seven-player trade on Tuesday, the Padres have one of the deepest rotations in baseball. But they have some lingering question marks as a result. With that in mind, here are three aftereffects of the Musgrove deal:

1. It's a deep rotation, but how do the Padres deploy it?

The math checks out. Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Dinelson Lamet sit at the front of the rotation, while Chris Paddack and Joe Musgrove comprise arguably the best 4-5 punch in baseball.

Five starters, five spots. Simple enough, right? Well, not exactly. There are questions about Lamet's right elbow. There are questions about Paddack's fastball. There are questions about how well starters might hold up under a 162-game slate in 2021 after a pared-down 60-game version.

Musgrove's presence is huge, because it erases the burden on the team’s prospects to fill out the rotation. But the Padres are still preparing those youngsters -- notably lefties Ryan Weathers, Adrian Morejon and MLB Pipeline's top overall pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore -- as starters. There's value in doing so, and Preller wouldn't rule out the use of a six-man rotation.

"We'll let the chips fall, and we'll make good decisions," Preller said. "It's definitely not a situation where we're going into it saying, 'Hey, because we have, on paper, five starters ... now we're going to shift everybody to the 'pen. We're going to come in with Weathers and Morejon and Gore and have those guys start games. We see those guys as starting pitchers for us this year.”

2. The bullpen gets a boost

As Preller said, Gore, Weathers and Morejon are on track to enter Spring Training as starters. The Padres remain fully invested in Gore as a starting pitcher exclusively, meaning that barring injuries, he probably opens the year in the Minors. But in the cases of Weathers and Morejon, there are bullpen spots up for grabs.

Preller said the Padres are still actively searching for additions to both their bullpen and their bench. But he seemed to indicate that the bullpen need was less urgent.

"We like a lot of the arms that are on our roster," Preller said. "We feel good. We thought the 'pen threw really good as we went last year. A lot of those guys that are still on our roster pitched well on a bullpen that really solidified itself as the year went on.

"We'll be open to what's out there, and we'll still continue to dig on what's out there. But if this is the team we have going into the season, we'll be happy going into it."

Musgrove is a big reason why. His presence allows for Morejon and Weathers to perhaps compete for middle-innings jobs, while pushing Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagán to the back end. It's already a deep and balanced bullpen, and if the Padres stand pat, they could always add at the Trade Deadline.

3. A 2022 logjam awaits

"The reason why we've given up young talent," Preller said, "is because the moves are geared toward players that have two, three, four, five years of control. It's not all-in to try and win in one season. We want to be year-in, year-out competitive."

Indeed, all four of the Padres' major acquisitions this winter arrive in San Diego with team control for multiple seasons. That includes Musgrove, who won't be a free agent until after 2022.

And while it's a fool's errand to project pitchers more than a year in advance, the Padres could have a bottleneck for rotation places in 2022, when Mike Clevinger is slated to return from Tommy John surgery.

Even if we put Morejon and Weathers in the bullpen -- which Preller explicitly said he isn't doing just yet -- that leaves seven big-name arms, if healthy: Snell, Darvish, Lamet, Clevinger, Paddack, Musgrove and Gore.

Some have speculated that the Musgrove deal is an indication that San Diego fears the worst with Lamet. Preller reiterated again that that isn't the case. But -- considering the way the Padres' 2020 season ended, with two aces on the shelf for the playoffs -- it would be foolish not to at least to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

If Lamet is healthy and a Cy Young candidate again? Well, that fits into the plan, too.

"You can never have enough quality starters," Preller said. "We want to look up and have a guy that, every single night when you look down at the matchup, you feel good about it."

Mission accomplished, in 2021 and beyond.