PEORIA, Ariz. -- After an offseason’s worth of chatter about the pitchers the Padres lost and the pitchers the Padres might still add, new manager Mike Shildt took things in a decidedly different direction on Sunday. As his pitchers and catchers officially reported to Spring Training in Peoria, Ariz., Shildt chose instead to speak about the Padres who are actually … Padres.
Indeed, the Padres’ rotation saw an overhaul during the offseason -- an overhaul that probably isn’t complete, with moves still to come. Gone from last year’s rotation are Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo and Nick Martinez. Blake Snell remains a free agent. In the December Juan Soto deal, San Diego landed a quartet of arms who might impact the big league club in 2024.
Despite the obvious question marks at the back of the rotation, it’s clear the Padres are bullish on what they already have. Musgrove and Darvish, coming off shoulder and elbow injuries, respectively, are healthy and on their usual throwing progressions, without limitations. Michael King, the prize of that Soto trade, is the other rotation lock.
As for the group of options behind that trio? The rest of the baseball world sees question marks. The Padres see opportunity.
“I'm super excited,” Musgrove said. “You look at that Yankee trade alone, the guys we got back in there -- a lot of talent in that group. Obviously not the same amount of experience as some of the other guys around the league in their rotations, but a lot of talent."
Or as King put it when asked about the pitchers who arrived with him in that trade: “You look at those guys’ upside, and it’s insane. I’m really looking forward to the Padres’ future.”
Still, as Musgrove alluded to, the options for the back of the rotation are inexperienced, to say the least. Randy Vásquez and Jhony Brito -- who arrived alongside King in the Soto trade -- are perhaps the early favorites for the final couple places. That group of contenders also includes Pedro Avila, Matt Waldron, Drew Thorpe (also in the Soto deal), Jairo Iriarte, Jay Groome and Glenn Otto. Otto is the elder statesman -- the only one of those starters with a full year of service time in the big leagues.
Then again, pitching coach Ruben Niebla has proven himself more than capable of extracting the most out of young pitching talent.
“My first call about Ruben was with Corey Kluber,” said King, Kluber’s teammate with the Yankees and Niebla’s one-time protegee in Cleveland. “I know he just retired. But he told me he would not have two Cy Youngs without Ruben.
“Immediately that makes me really confident going into it. Then, the first conversation I had with Ruben was like an hour-and-a-half-long conversation. It wasn’t really just about me. It was about pitching in general. And I couldn’t feel like I fit more with him than anybody else.”
So the Padres like their in-house options. Clearly, they also like their ability to develop their in-house options. That won’t preclude them from adding in the coming days. Sources have indicated they’re still active in their search for starting pitching.
It’s one of two major priorities remaining on the agenda of general manager A.J. Preller, along with adding to the outfield mix.
Of course, Padres camp opened a bit early because their season also begins early -- with a two-game series against the Dodgers in Seoul, South Korea, beginning March 20. Their roster is still incomplete, meaning the Peoria Sports Complex might see a few new reportees in the coming days.
It made for a bit of a strange backdrop, as Padres camp officially got underway on Sunday -- though the Padres weren’t choosing to view it that way.
“You look at it on paper, maybe it is a little bit [strange],” Musgrove said. “But I’ve got a lot of faith in A.J. That guy does things that not a lot of people do, and he is very well thought-out. I know he’s not going into this thing … without a plan in place.
“We’ve got faith in him to put the right people in the right spots. We’ve also got a lot of young talent. There’s opportunities here, and I think that’s good, for these young guys to come into camp feeling like there is an opportunity for them to earn a spot.”