The Padres made it to the NLCS for the first time since 1998, but their season came to a close yesterday when they were knocked off by the Phillies in five games. San Diego now turns its attention to the offseason, where they’ll face a decent amount of possible roster turnover around a star-studded core.
San Diego will see Mike Clevinger, Sean Manaea, midseason trade pickups Josh Bell and Brandon Drury and relievers Pierce Johnson and Craig Stammen all hit free agency. A handful of other players have contractual options that could get them to the open market. Each of Nick Martinez, Robert Suarez and Jurickson Profar has the ability to opt out of their contracts this winter. Wil Myers, meanwhile, has a $20MM team option that is certain to be bought out for $1MM.
Martinez and Suarez were two of San Diego’s higher-leverage relievers down the stretch, raising the possibility of a good portion of the Padres bullpen hitting the open market. As part of a broader look at questions facing the roster (a piece worth a read in full), Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune suggests Martinez is likely to test the open market. The right-hander signed a four-year, $25.5MM guarantee last winter following a three-season run in Japan, with the contract affording him an opt-out chance after each season. He’s due $19.5MM over the next three years but would be due a $1.5MM buyout if he opts out, meaning he’s left to decide whether he can top a three-year, $18MM guarantee on the open market.
MLBTR’s Steve Adams took a detailed look at the situation last month, noting that Martinez’s strong performance out of the bullpen made that an interesting call. Acee indicates Martinez could prioritize finding a rotation opportunity after working in a swing role this year. The 32-year-old started 10 of his first 12 outings but moved to the bullpen full-time in mid-June. At the time of his bullpen transfer, he had a 4.05 ERA with an average 21.9% strikeout rate and a slightly elevated 10.4% walk percentage. Following the move to relief, Martinez worked 46 frames of 2.74 ERA ball. He cut his walk rate to 7.4%, but his strikeout rate dipped a percentage point. Despite lacking power, swing-and-miss stuff, Martinez picked up eight saves and served as a generally versatile bullpen piece for manager Bob Melvin.
Martinez’s ostensible desire for a rotation spot shouldn’t inherently rule him out in San Diego. While he was squeezed out of the mix midseason, the Friars went on to deal MacKenzie Gore in the Juan Soto trade. Coupled with the aforementioned free agencies of Clevinger and Manaea, there should be a fair bit of opportunity behind Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. Acee indicates the Padres don’t want to abandon the possibility of using Adrián Morejón as a starter, however. The southpaw, once one of the game’s top pitching prospects, worked out of the bullpen 26 times this year after missing almost all of last season due to Tommy John surgery. Morejón isn’t guaranteed a season-opening rotation spot next year, but it seems the Friars are open to stretching him back out after a healthy offseason.
Suarez was a more straightforward power bullpen arm. Also a signee out of NPB last offseason, he went on to make 45 regular season appearances despite a two-month absence with right knee inflammation. He posted a 2.27 ERA across 47 2/3 innings, striking out a whopping 31.9% of opponents. Suarez’s control was erratic, but he brandished an upper-90s fastball and was Melvin’s most trusted bullpen arm by season’s end. It concluded on a sour note, with Suarez surrendering the go-ahead homer to Bryce Harper that brought San Diego’s year to a close, but he pitched out of a number of jams earlier in the postseason. With that kind of velocity and swing-and-miss stuff, he’s a lock to bypass the final $5MM on his deal in favor of a $1MM buyout and test free agency.
Things are a bit more settled on the position player side, but president of baseball operations A.J. Preller and his staff will have to make a few key decisions there as well. First is whether to retain any of the impending free agents. Acee writes that the team is open to bringing back Drury, who hit eight homers in 46 games as a Padre. He only had a .290 on-base percentage during that time, but he’d posted a .274/.335/.520 showing with 20 homers for the Reds over the season’s first few months. Drury can cover any non-shortstop position on the infield and could serve as a corner outfield option with the team potentially losing Profar and Myers.
For his part, Myers indicated that he’s open to a return to San Diego (link via AJ Cassavell of MLB.com). It certainly won’t be on the $20MM option, but Myers will find a big league deal on a lower base salary this offseason. He’s typically provided the Friars with slightly above-average offense, and that was again the case in 2022. Myers hit .261/.315/.398 over 286 plate appearances. He didn’t offer much against right-handed pitching but he popped six homers in 90 plate appearances against southpaws and carries a career .255/.351/.453 line while holding the platoon advantage.
With Bell’s possible departure, the Friars don’t have an obvious in-house first base option, perhaps opening the door for Myers to return at a lower rate. They could certainly dip into the free agent class there, although Acee notes there’s some support in the organization for playing Jake Cronenworth more frequently at first. Cronenworth is an above-average defensive second baseman, making that something of an odd fit, but San Diego has one of the sport’s most talented infields. Ha-Seong Kim proved himself an everyday player filling in for Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop, while Manny Machado is an MVP candidate at the hot corner.
Tatis didn’t play in 2022 because of injuries and a performance-enhancing drug suspension, but he’ll be back with the club in late April next year. Tatis still has 20 games remaining on his 80-game suspension — he missed 48 regular season contests and 12 playoff games this year — but will be back in the everyday lineup a few weeks into next year. Penciling him back in at shortstop could require kicking Kim to the other side of the second base bag. That’d form one of the sport’s top defensive infields, of particular value with forthcoming limitations on shifting. San Diego has also explored the possibility of playing Tatis in center field while curtailing Trent Grisham’s playing time on the heels of a .184/.284/.341 line. That could again be under consideration, but Tatis has previously expressed his preference for sticking at shortstop.