The Padres don’t need to sign any more free agents. The goal, clearly, isn’t to win in 2017, and the team, as currently constructed, will probably be lucky to sniff 70 wins. Still, undervalued free agents can come in handy for a couple of reasons: 1) the Padres have to finish a 162-game season, and they may need more cavalry just to get there (especially on the pitching side), and 2) free agent rehabilitation projects can turn into valuable trade chips by late July.
It’s hard to oversell just how important the Drew Pomeranz acquisition was. Though not actually a free agent pick-up, Pomeranz was nabbed for close to nothing (Yonder Alonso) and, just a few months later, exchanged for one of the Padres most intriguing prospects, right-handed pitcher Anderson Espinoza. Fernando Rodney, an actual free agent signing, was turned into Chris Paddack last June, another interesting (if now injured) pitcher. Are there any free agents left who could be Pomeranz-ed or Rodney-ed into something useful by mid-summer?
First, let’s run down MLB Trade Rumors top remaining FAs, published on Christmas day:
The Padres don’t really need any first baseman/corner outfielder types. It’d potentially take playing time away from someone like Wil Myers, Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, or Travis Jankowski, and one of the primary goals of the organization should be to get its young players on the field as much as possible. Plus, Trumbo’s best years are probably behind him, and he looks like an obvious regression candidate on the surface.
Jose Bautista—Bautista’s a more interesting player, if only because he was a legitimate star from like 2010 to 2015. Last year’s downfall and his age (36) are certainly concerns, but he checks off the bounce-back candidate box. He’s also strictly a corner outfielder or designated hitter, so he doesn’t really fit here (not to mention, he comes with a qualifying offer tag).
Jason Hammel—Okay. We’ve got a live one here. Hammel’s $10 million option was declined by the Cubs this offseason, a sort of curious (and seemingly) good-will decision by Epstein & Co., allowing Hammel to pursue a new gig and better opportunity elsewhere. It also means Hammel doesn’t come with a qualifying offer, so he won’t cost his signing team a draft pick.
He’s also a pretty decent pitcher, really. Since 2009, he’s posted an ERA+ just north of average, with solid strikeout and walk numbers, occasional home run issues, and a penchant for reaching 170 innings but no more. Toss in Petco’s still pitcher-friendly ways with a little Darren Balsley magic and a pinch of good luck, and it’s not hard to imagine Hammel as attractive trade bait by the deadline. Plus, he’d help stabilize an atrocious-looking starting rotation. Nobody’s gonna pay to watch Jason Hammel pitch, but they might not leave the ballpark as early when he’s on the mound.
Michael Saunders—Eh. Saunders would need to play everyday to really boost his value, an unlikely proposition in San Diego’s young, crowded outfield.
Mike Napoli—Napoli is turning into a modern-day Reggie Sanders, as his teams just seem to win. He’ll make a good buy-low first base/DH option for a team looking for some thump, but, like most of the remaining hitters, he just doesn’t fit into a rebuilder’s plans.
Greg Holland—If the price is reasonable enough, this seems like another good place to spend money. Holland didn’t pitch in 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, and he was merely ordinary in 2015. But from 2011 through 2014, he was one of the premier relief pitchers in the game, recording a 220 ERA+ and a K/9 of nearly 13. The Padres can simply tab him the closer and see what happens; if the results are even a decent knock-off from his previous self, teams will line up for a deal come July .
Travis Wood—Wood is pretty similar to Hammel, except four or five years younger and coming off two seasons where he was mostly a reliever, and he’s interesting for the same reasons. The best paths forward with Wood would be to turn him back into a solid starter (like 2013) or a high-strikeout reliever (like 2015), where he’d have plenty of value around the league—not that either route would simply come to fruition with a snap of the fingers.
Neftali Feliz—Feliz fits the Holland mold, although he’s been largely ineffective for two years running now. Even when he was good, the peripherals weren’t flashy. I’d lean Holland if I was looking for a buy-low reliever, but Feliz could probably work if everything clicks.
Tyson Ross—The Padres non-tendered Ross, which still might qualify as the surprise as the offseason (for San Diego, anyway). The industry has turned on him in a hurry, it seems, thanks to a slider-heavy repertoire and recurring injury concerns. He’s recovering from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, a dicey procedure involving the neck and shoulder. There’s probably a decent chance that his career, at least as a potential frontline starter, is abruptly winding down, but he’s still just narrowly on the right side of 30 and deserving of another shot or three.
Santiago Casilla—Casilla is a a consistent reliever who puts up an ERA in the ones every few years, and a careful review of his track record combined with some light astrological readings indicate that he might be in store for another one in 2017.
Coco Crisp—Less a rehabilitation project for a future trade, more a veteran outfielder on a young team, Crisp could serve the Jon Jay role adequately. He’s also still moderately good, and fun to watch to boot.
Eovaldi throws hard—his fastball averaged 98 mph last year—but straight, and the results have mostly been sour. Get him out of the American League East or, shoot, into the nearest bullpen, and maybe things change. There’s always some allure to a big velo fastball.
Doug Fister—Fister’s peripherals have declined over the past few years, and as a low strikeout guy, there’s little wiggle room there. Still, he posted a 2.41 ERA in 2014 and owns a career 111 ERA+, so he works as a flyer.
Javier Lopez—Lopez has put together a 14-year career as a lefty specialist, a hero to LOOGYs everywhere. In fact, it’s been rumored that Rockies reliever Mike Dunn built a shrine to Lopez in his locker. He’s also still somewhat effective, somehow, despite a K:BB ratio that hovers dangerously close to one. Maybe there’s not much left, but some team would probably give up something of interest if they looked up and saw that Lopez had finagled his way into a 2.12 ERA through the first half.
Jonathan Papelbon—A clubhouse wild card and occasional choke artist, Papelbon has put together a Hall of Fame-ish level career, at least for a reliever. He fell off last season but was excellent in 2015, and relievers (just ask Rodney) have been known to concoct rebound seasons late in their careers.
Jake Peavy—Peavy’s name has been thrown around quite a bit, and he works better as a feel-good-story than a future trade chip.
Sergio Romo—Romo has a 5.6 career strikeout-to-walk ratio, which . . . wow. But it never felt like the Giants trusted him, at least not over the past few seasons, and he’s struggled with the home run ball. But he works, here, for the reasons we’ve covered before regrading relief pitchers.
Jered Weaver—Weaver’s fastball is so slow that Statcast mistakes every third or fourth one for a lost hummingbird.
Weaver was a really good pitcher not too long ago, and his career winning percentage is better than Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz‘s. Somewhere along the way, though, his fastball velocity—never particularly hot—dropped to the level you might see at, like, a division III junior college baseball game or the second half of a Pecos League double-header. It’s a credit to Weaver that he’s maintained a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than two with 83 mph hard stuff in the major leagues (although gopheritis has led more directly to his downfall).
He probably doesn’t make a ton of sense, but we must concede that it’d be kind of fun to watch Weaver succeed—or try to succeed—with a low-80s fastball.