What's next for Padres' rotation after Martinez deal?

November 23rd, 2022

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell's Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The Padres put the finishing touches on their deal with on Tuesday, a three-year pact that keeps him right where he wants to be -- in San Diego. It’s an important signing. Martinez played a vital role for San Diego in 2022: the do-everything man who pitched wherever and whenever the team needed him.

To start the 2023 season, that will be one place: in the rotation.

The Padres need starters, and it’s clear that, even after signing of Martinez, they’re not done. So here’s a question worth asking: How many more starting pitchers should the Padres acquire?

“We feel really good about the top of the rotation,” general manager A.J. Preller said at the General Managers Meetings earlier this month. “But every year you want to add starting pitching. You want to get depth. … We’re going to try to add to that rotation and give [manager Bob Melvin] as many options as possible from a starting standpoint.”

To answer that question, let’s first size up the current state of affairs on the Padres' pitching staff. Here’s how the rotation stands:

And here are the depth options on the 40-man roster:

A few quick notes:

• If I were the Padres, I would do everything in my power to enter the season with a six-man rotation. Their use of a six-man staff in the first half of the 2022 season worked to perfection. It allowed their starters to pitch deeper into games, keeping their bullpen extremely fresh for the stretch run. Melvin was initially hesitant, but when he saw the way his pitchers responded, he was quick to embrace it. Plus, with 26-man rosters, a six-man rotation doesn’t burden a pitching staff nearly as much as it would with a 25-man squad.

• We’ll probably learn a lot about how the organization views Morejon this winter and next spring. He’s the most intriguing of those depth options. Morejon was useful at times as a reliever and boasts electric stuff in the upper-90s. But he’s been inconsistent and has only established any form of rhythm while pitching in relief. It’ll be interesting to see how serious the Padres are in their intentions to transition Morejon back into the rotation. He’s never pitched more than 65 1/3 innings in a professional season.

• Martinez was so good in his relief role late last season that I’m sure there are some people who would love to see him used the same way in 2023. But as a free agent, Martinez earned his right to negotiate, and the Padres have told him they expect him to start. I think that’s the right plan -- at least for the beginning of the season. Let Martinez prove himself in the rotation. If September rolls around and Martinez is best suited back in the 'pen, I’m sure he’d be amenable. But Martinez has earned the right to show what he’s got as a starter.

Back to the question at hand. Here’s my verdict, based on all of the available evidence: The Padres should add two more starting pitchers.

Last week, MLB.com’s Mike Petriello dissected the strongest and weakest free-agent positions, and he came to this conclusion:

"Need a starting pitcher? Great. There are a few high-quality top-end guys, several above-average starters, and then a near-endless number of mid-to-back-rotation arms. Dozens of them, really. Have your choice."

With that in mind, I think the Padres should look to splurge on one starter -- whether they acquire him via trade or free agency. Then, pick up their No. 6 option from among the collection of mid-to-back-rotation arms that are so plentiful.

Oh, and regarding the former, the Padres did indeed meet with Kodai Senga last week, as The Athletic first reported. And, per sources, they are interested in the Japanese right-hander. A signing like that would be quite a start.