The Padres announced Thursday that they’ve designated southpaw Clayton Richard for assignment, which will clear a spot on the 40-man roster for veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler, whose previously reported two-year contract with San Diego has now been formally announced.
Richard, 35, inked a similarly affordable two-year pact with the Friars prior to the completion of the 2017 season — jumping at the opportunity to guarantee himself multiple years as opposed to exploring the open market in his mid 30s. Richard received that two-year reward at the tail end of a season in which he proved a durable ground-ball machine, pitching 197 1/3 innings of 4.79 ERA ball that came with more promising peripherals. That season, Richard averaged 6.9 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and 1.09 HR/9 to go along with a gaudy 59.2 percent ground-ball rate. Fielding-independent pitching metrics such as FIP (4.26), xFIP (3.76) and SIERA (4.06) all graded him out much more favorably than his ERA.
The 2018 version of Richard wasn’t all that different in terms of K/BB and ground-ball tendencies, and his home run rate was a mirror image of that 2017 rate. Richard, though, did take a slight step back in terms of strikeouts, control and grounders, though, and because his contact-oriented approach leaves little margin for error, his ERA jumped to 5.33 in 158 2/3 innings. Fielding-independent metrics still liked Richard better than his ugly ERA, but there’s no denying that his 2018 performance was diminished across the board.
More troubling Richard’s outlook is the fact that his season was preempted in August when he went under the knife to alleviate left knee troubles that had plagued him since early in the season. While there’s no indication that Richard is expected to miss significant time in 2019 as a result of the operation, the procedure nonetheless further casts doubt on his ability to function as a stabilizing innings eater moving forward.
San Diego will be on the hook for a $3MM salary for Richard in the coming season unless the organization is able to find a trade partner or Richard is claimed on waivers. The latter scenario seems particularly unlikely, given that $3MM commitment, as an interested team could simply opt to let Richard clear waivers, take his release, and then sign for the league minimum of $555K. If Richard does land with a new team, the Padres will be off the hook for the pro-rated portion of that $555K for any time Richard spends at the big league level.