The Padres and right-hander Brent Honeywell are in agreement on a major league deal, reports Jeff Passan of ESPN. It’s a split deal that will pay him $725K in the majors and $200K in the minors. The Padres subsequently announced the signing.
Honeywell, 28 in March, was selected by the Rays with the 72nd overall pick in the 2014 draft. His strong performance in the lower levels of the minor leagues allowed him to quickly shoot up prospect rankings. Baseball America had him on their top 100 list in five straight years starting in 2016.
Unfortunately, the reason that Honeywell stayed on there so long is that a laundry list of injuries prevented him from exhausting his prospect status. He required Tommy John surgery early in 2018, which wiped out that season. In June of 2019, he fractured a bone in his right elbow while working his way back to the mound, knocking him out of action for a second straight year. In May of 2020, while the pandemic had put the season on pause, he underwent a decompression procedure on his right ulnar nerve. That eventually made it three consecutive campaigns without Honeywell taking the mound in an official game of any kind.
In 2021, he finally was healthy enough to get back into action, making his MLB debut for the Rays. They only let him throw 4 1/3 innings at the big league level, however, leaving him in Triple-A most of the year. He threw 81 2/3 frames there with a 3.97 ERA, 20% strikeout rate and 7.2% walk rate. Those were decent numbers, but considering he missed three whole seasons prior to that, it would be hard to characterize it as anything but a very encouraging return.
The Rays traded Honeywell to the A’s in November, with Oakland surely hoping that better days were ahead with the injuries in the rearview mirror. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with an olecranon stress reaction in his throwing elbow in March. He was shut down at that time and then was placed on the 60-day injured list when the season began. He started a rehab assignment in August but the club outrighted him off their 40-man roster in September. He continued pitching in the farm system of the A’s, finishing the year with a 7.08 ERA over 20 1/3 innings.
He reached free agency at the end of the year and has been pitching for the Leones del Escogido of the Dominican Winter League. He’s made seven appearances so far, including six starts, posting a 0.96 ERA over 28 innings. That’s evidently been enough to convince the Padres that Honeywell is worth a roster spot, as they have added Honeywell to the 40-man. Financially, there’s little risk, since Honeywell’s salary will be just barely above the $720K league minimum. The fact that it’s a split deal suggests that the Padres aren’t fully committed to Honeywell holding onto that spot, which is a fairly logical position given his lengthy injury history. However, he’s out of options, meaning that they would have to pass him through waivers before sending him to the minor leagues.
It’s unclear if the Padres intend to deploy Honeywell as a starter or a reliever, but they’ve shown a broadly flexible approach in that department when it comes to building out their pitching staff. The rotation is headlined by three locks in Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, but who slots in behind them is less certain. Nick Martinez and Seth Lugo are candidates for a couple of spots, but both of them also have experience as relievers. Martinez started 2022 in the rotation but was eventually moved to the bullpen and had better results there. Lugo has just 38 career starts at the big league level but has an extensive repertoire of pitches that could allow him to move to a starting role.
Honeywell is currently acting as a starter in winter ball but hasn’t logged 100 innings in a season since 2017, before his lengthy absence. Counting on him for anything resembling a full starter’s workload would certainly be risky, but he’s just one of a handful of options for the Friars. In addition to Martinez and Lugo, they also have prospects Adrian Morejon, Jay Groome, Ryan Weathers and others on the 40-man roster. For a minimal financial investment, the Padres have thrown Honeywell into the mix and will see if he they can be the ones to benefit from his long-awaited breakout. If that comes to fruition, Honeywell has less than a year of service time and can be retained by the club for the foreseeable future.