SAN DIEGO -- For Clayton Richard, leadership by talking might as well be mute. The San Diego left-hander has earned his teammates' respect through his actions in the weight room, in the clubhouse and on the mound.
As the Padres build into a playoff contender, Richard is the type of player they want to mentor their young talent. The organization proved it Wednesday not with words, but with actions, signing Richard to a two-year, $6 million extension that will keep the 34-year-old in San Diego through 2019.
"What I'm going to do in the next couple years is just what I've been doing: work as hard as I can to help get this team in position to win baseball games," Richard said. "That's all I'll be focusing on, and hopefully that'll be a good example for all the young guys that come up."
By completing discussions that had been ongoing since July, general manager A.J. Preller guaranteed his team a veteran presence for its 2018 rotation. The upcoming free-agent class is relatively thin in starting pitching, but San Diego has Richard for $3 million in each of the next two seasons.
The Padres also have had conversations regarding extensions with their other pending free agents. Richard might be only the beginning.
"I think both parties pretty much shared a vision of what we're trying to do here in the next few years," Preller said. "Clayton's really excited to try to be part of a group that gets us back on winning ways."
Richard leads San Diego with 185 innings in 2017, his first full season as a starter since 2012. Shoulder surgery caused him to miss most of the next season and all of 2014.
He returned as a reliever for the Cubs in 2015, but after he struggled in 2016, Chicago released him. Richard rejoined San Diego and was shortly afterward inserted into the team's rotation. After posting a 6.43 ERA with Chicago, he had a 2.52 ERA with the Padres before re-signing for one year in the offseason.
"They gave me an opportunity here last year when there probably weren't a ton of teams that would have," Richard said. "I always wanted to be here. I always wanted to prove to them I could be an asset for them moving forward."
The 2016 success didn't translate to 2017. Richard's 4.82 ERA is partially the result of grounders sneaking through the Padres' infield. The sinkerballer is tied for the National League lead in ground-ball double plays.
"I feel as if I've made pitches consistently enough to be successful," Richard said. "... I know the numbers don't exactly line up with me saying I did well, but with what I can control, I think it went pretty well, and I think the Padres see that or else I don't think we'd be here today."
Preller said the only assurance given to Richard as part of the extension was beginning the 2018 season in the rotation. With well-regarded prospects approaching the Majors, Richard will face competition to remain a starter.
He's prepared for it, but he also said that reflects the growth of an organization he's seen develop in the past year. Over the course of the next two, Richard has a simple expectation: "winning."
"I really don't think I would've agreed to this had that not been the case," Richard said. "That's why we play, is to win baseball games and be in September and looking towards October. I don't think we're far away from that. I think if we consistently move the needle forward, this time next year we're going to be having a lot more fun."