The Padres have expressed some interest in free agent righty Michael Lorenzen as they look to fill out their rotation, reports Jon Morosi of MLB Network. The 32-year-old Lorenzen is among the more notable free agent starting pitchers yet to sign this offseason.
Lorenzen is a free agent for the third consecutive offseason. The longtime Reds setup man hit the market two winters ago in search of an opportunity to move back to a rotation — the role in which he broke into the majors as a rookie. That led to a one-year, $6.75MM deal with the Angels that produced solid results but was cut short at 97 2/3 innings due to a shoulder strain. Lorenzen took another one-year deal last offseason, this time landing a $8.5MM guarantee from the Tigers. The end-of-season results look solid — 4.18 ERA, 17.8% strikeout rate, 7.5% walk rate — but also don’t necessarily tell the whole story of his season.
A strong first half (and a generally underwhelming Tigers roster) helped to both propel Lorenzen to his first All-Star Game and position him as a trade candidate who was in relatively strong demand. Lorenzen turned in a 3.80 ERA as a Tiger, soaking up 105 2/3 innings in 18 starts (5 2/3 frames per outing) while fanning 20% of opponents against a 6.5% walk rate. The Phillies eventually acquired him to help stabilize the rotation down the stretch, and in the early stages of his Philadelphia tenure the trade looked like a masterstroke.
Lorenzen’s Phillies debut was sensational. He tossed eight innings of two-run ball against a contending Marlins club, limiting the Fish to a pair of runs on six hits and a walk. One-upping that type of debut is no small feat, but he did so in spades, tossing a no-hitter against the Nationals in his second start. Lorenzen looked like an instant Phillies success, but things went downhill quickly thereafter.
Whether due to a career-high workload, some type of minor injury or a simple run of poor performance, Lorenzen wilted in such substantial fashion that the Phils eventually dropped him to the bullpen. In the five starts immediately following that 124-pitch no-hitter, Lorenzen allowed 26 runs (23 earned) on 37 hits and 11 walks with just 14 strikeouts in 26 innings. His first outing as a reliever for the Phils saw him serve up another four runs in just one-third of an inning. He recovered with four shutout innings over his final three relief appearances, but what looked like a breakout season in mid-August ended with a whimper.
Even with that wobbly finish, Lorenzen is a sensible target for a Padres team in need of solid innings and rotation depth. The right-hander built up to 153 innings in 2023, and while he may have faded down the stretch, that workload might also make him less likely to deal with any late-season fatigue in 2024. San Diego’s current rotation includes Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Michael King, with a host of unknowns vying for the final two spots. Randy Vasquez, Jhony Brito, Pedro Avila, Matt Waldron, Glenn Otto and Jay Groome are among the options for the final two spots.
It’s a deep collection of arms, all of whom other than Groome have at least some MLB experience, but no one from that bunch has proven much as a starter. Even King, whom the Padres acquired from the Yankees in the Juan Soto blockbuster (alongside Vasquez and Brito) has never pitched a full big league season as a starter. An injury to Musgrove and/or Darvish — both of whom have spent time on the IL in recent seasons — would render the Padres heavily reliant on a cast of general question marks. Lorenzen has some questions himself, but he’s also pitched 250 2/3 innings of 4.20 ERA ball over the past two seasons. There’s little doubt he’d be a steadying presence.
The question for the Padres is one of payroll. San Diego was reportedly aiming to scale back payroll by as much as $50MM this offseason, which was the driving factor behind the Soto trade in the first place. They also swapped out an experienced but relatively expensive reliever (Scott Barlow) for a less-proven and lower-cost bullpen arm (Enyel De Los Santos) and have allowed Josh Hader, Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha and Nick Martinez to depart via free agency (with Blake Snell likely to follow). The Friars have spent some money, bringing in NPB reliever Yuki Matsui and KBO reliever Woo Suk Go on low-AAV multi-year deals, but the offseason has been more focused on subtracting big salaries than bolstering a win-now roster.
As things stand, the Padres’ payroll sits at a projected $156MM, with $212MM of luxury tax obligations, per Roster Resource. That’s a massive $100MM shy of their end-of-season 2023 payroll level, which ought to leave the Padres with some money to make modest additions between now and Opening Day. Lorenzen, who’s also drawn interest from the Orioles, makes as much sense as any fit on the market, but the Padres presumably have limited resources with which to work and holes in the outfield, on the bench and at designated hitter.