The Padres announced they’ve optioned right-hander Dinelson Lamet to Triple-A El Paso. The move clears an active roster spot for Robinson Canó, whose previously-reported major league contract has been made official. San Diego already had an opening on the 40-man roster.
It’s a disappointing and somewhat surprising development for Lamet, who’s only two years removed from a fourth-place finish in NL Cy Young award balloting. He made 12 starts and threw 69 innings of 2.09 ERA ball that season, punching out an excellent 34.5% of batters faced along the way. That seemed to cement him as a key piece of the organization’s long-term rotation, but he dealt with arm issues during the postseason that set him off track.
Lamet wound up not appearing in a playoff game that year, and he had a pair of injured list stints due to forearm inflammation last season. The second of those stints cost him more than two months between July and September, and he didn’t have time to return to the rotation once healthy. Lamet worked in relief for the 2021 campaign’s final month, and he’s begun this season in that role as well.
The 2022 campaign has been a disaster, as Lamet has been tagged for ten runs in 8 1/3 innings across ten appearances. He has struck out ten batters and induced swinging strikes at an excellent 16% clip, but he’s also issued seven walks and coughed up a pair of home runs. As he’s struggled, Lamet has fallen towards the bottom of the bullpen depth chart and been consigned primarily to lower-leverage work. He’ll now lose his roster spot altogether and head back to the minors for the first time since he was called up in May 2017 (aside from injury rehab assignments).
If the Friars had lost faith in Lamet for the moment, however, optioning him now is a sensible decision. Players with five-plus years of big league service cannot be optioned without their consent, and the 29-year-old is very near that threshold. Lamet entered the season with four years and 130 days of service, and he’s accrued roughly 36 more days this year. Players reach a full service year at 172 days, meaning he’s about six days shy of the five-year mark. Had the Padres kept Lamet around another week or so, they would no longer have been able to make a unilateral decision to send him down.
It’s possible Lamet’s tenure in the organization could be nearing its end regardless, as the Friars have reportedly discussed him in trade talks in recent weeks. Lamet is making just shy of $5MM this season, and San Diego’s luxury tax number is underneath the base $230MM threshold by the narrowest of margins. Whether anyone would pick up the entirety of Lamet’s salary after his difficult start to the season isn’t clear, but perhaps another team would take a buy-low flier to grab an obviously talented pitcher controllable through 2023 if the Pads are desperate to move him for payroll reasons.