There is a great ‘what if’ from the Padres 2020 season. It’s not hard to imagine, and countless fans no doubt have. What if Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger hadn’t gotten injured?
The club’s top two starters went down late in the regular season with elbow injuries. Lamet never returned, but is on schedule with his normal offseason throwing program. Clevinger made a brief appearance in the NLDS against the Dodgers, but his ailment required Tommy John Surgery – which will sideline him for 2021.
Their absences lowered the ceiling for the club’s 2020 postseason run, and crystalized a need ahead of the upcoming campaign.
General Manager A.J. Preller told reporters that he is in search of a starting pitching, someone who can contribute quality innings.
“We've got a lot of options out there,” Preller said.
Atop that list for most folks is Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer. The 29-year-old righty is the top name on the free agent market.
“Great pitcher, obviously recognized as the best pitcher in the NL this year,” Preller added. “He would help anybody's team.”
For those reasons - he's going to be pricey. It doesn't seem like there's room for Bauer in the Padres' budget, especially with Preller also shopping for bench pieces and bullpen help.
There are of course other names available - like 31-year-old Japanese right-handed pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano.
Preller is also no stranger to swinging big trades. Blake Snell of the Rays and Sonny Gray of the Reds could be targets.
There is another talent pool in play that could streamline their decision: all those young guys we've heard about for so long. Adrian Morejon has thrown 32.1 innings over the course of the last two seasons. In 2020 we got our first glimpses of No. 3 prospect Luis Patino and No. 6 prospect Ryan Weathers. All three were limited to reliever-type roles.
Then of course there's the jewel of the Padres’ highly-touted farm system – lefty MacKenzie Gore. The club’s top prospect was expected to debut at some point in 2020, but issues with his mechanics and the desire to keep him in a starting role kept him from taking the Major League mound.
“Ultimately we have some really talented young pitchers,” Preller said. “We’d love to see those guys get an opportunity to develop and pitch. We also think we have a good position player crew, good defense behind them, good bullpen. I think if you can put some of those things in place it's a pretty good environment and atmosphere for some of those guys to develop.”
Not lost in the mix is Chris Paddack. As Dinelson Lamet and Zach Davies posted the best numbers of their careers, Paddack struggled in his second season. After having the look of a budding ace as a rookie in 2019, Paddack earned the Opening Day job in July. However, he was not consistently reliable from one start to the next. Paddack allowed six runs in 2.1 innings against the Cardinals, in what ended up being his only postseason appearance.
Paddack showed enough throughout his career, and in spots in 2020, to remain a part of the equation heading into the new season.
“He's a guy we have a lot belief and faith in and expect him to comeback this year ready to be at the front part of our rotation.”
In a sense, he and the young guys are the embodiment of Preller's words, when the GM was asked if the Padres have a World Series roster.
“We feel like we have enough talent to do that,” Preller said. “It's a matter of maximizing the ability of some of the guys that are in the organization on the big league club right now.”
Preller will keep an eye on what’s available via free agency or trade, and is always a threat to make a major move. But from the sounds of it, he may be more concerned with the potential that exists on his roster, than what’s on the market.
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