Rich Hill, traded to his 13th team yesterday at 43 years young, has no intention of making the Padres the final stop in his baseball career. The left-hander tells MLB.com’s Justice de los Santos that he has “all intentions of playing” in what would be his 20th Major League season in 2024 (Twitter link).
Hill’s age-35 comeback season with the Red Sox was remarkable on its own — way back in 2015. At that point, the suggestion that Hill would still be pitching in 2023 with his sights set on continuing into 2024 would’ve sounded like utter lunacy. He’d pitched in just 153 innings in the seven seasons from 2008-14, compiling a 5.41 ERA and regularly being bounced off rosters and passed through waivers. His 1.55 ERA in four late-season starts with Boston in 2015 was a fun story, but the manner in which the next decade unfolded has been completely unforeseeable.
That 29-inning sample with the Red Sox prompted the A’s to sign Hill for a year and $6MM, and he went on to dominate with Oakland to the point that the Dodgers pounced to acquire him and Josh Reddick for a trio of then-prospects: Frankie Montas, Jharel Cotton and Grant Holmes. Hill re-signed in Los Angeles on three-year, $48MM deal that seemed surreal at the time, given where he’d been just a couple years prior.
He’s steadily slowed from an upper-tier starting pitcher to a cagey innings eater in the years since, pitching to a 3.00 ERA with a 29% strikeout rate from 2016-19 but a 4.15 ERA and 21% strikeout rate in 440 2/3 innings dating back to 2020. That includes a 4.76 ERA, 19.6% strikeout rate and 8.9% walk rate in 119 frames with the Pirates this year.
Hill will step into the back of the Padres’ rotation and help provide stable innings behind Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. Righty Seth Lugo is quickly approaching his career-high innings count after moving from a relief role to a starting role this year, and while he’s pitched quite well to date, it’s unclear how he’ll fare as his workload moves into uncharted territory. Hill’s steady, if unspectacular innings, could prove important as the Padres hope for a second-half surge that’ll push them back into the playoff picture.
How Hill fares in the season’s final two months will impact his earning power in free agency. It’s hard to imagine anyone inking him to a multi-year deal regardless, given his age, but his performance in San Diego will play a large role in dictating the type of guarantee he can command on another one-year pact.
Yesterday’s trade to the Padres was notable in that they’ll be Hill’s 13th Major League team — tying him for the second-most franchises appeared for by any player. Edwin Jackson holds that oddball record at 14. Hill will have a chance to tie him this offseason and perhaps even surpass him next year, if he’s traded during the 2024 campaign.