2018 Preview: San Diego Padres

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The San Diego Padres.

The future looks bright in San Diego. The farm system is loaded with talent. Young center fielder Manuel Margot seems poised for a breakout into a speed/power star we see so few of in baseball but about whom people get so excited when they arrive. Austin Hedges hit 18 homers from behind the dish last year and that pop from a catcher doesn’t come along every day. The club made its biggest ever free agent splash in signing Eric Hosmer, and he’s young enough — and his contract is long enough — that he should figure in the middle of the Padres order for many, many years. Interesting players like second baseman Carlos Asuaje and outfielder Jose Pirela will likely see full seasons in the bigs. Wil Myers, Freddy Galvis and old friend Chase Headley are familiar names who will show up on a lot of banners and posters around Petco Park, even they aren’t the most exciting dudes around.

Offensively, the Padres won’t be terrible. Not great, but interesting in some ways. There’s enough of a foundation there that when super exciting prospects like Fernando Tatis Jr. eventually show up they could be downright frisky, but there’s not enough to compete in 2018.

The rotation is a much bigger problem. Clayton Richard, Tyson Ross, Chris Young, Bryan Mitchell, Dinelson Lamet and Luis Perdomo are all certainly pitchers. There’s no real chance, though, that they’ll be substantially better pitchers than they or the other Padres pitchers were in 2017. That crew amounted to one of the worst rotations in the National League last year. They’ll probably be deep into the bottom half of those rankings this year too.

The bullpen has Brad Hand and Brand Hand is dang good. The rest of the relievers are, well, not. Craig Stammen — easily the second best Craig from Ohio — was a nice pickup last year and he stuck around to be the Padres setup man this year. Kirby Yates had some moments and strikes out a lot of dudes. Carter Capps is an interesting injury reclamation project, though he obviously will not be the same guy he used to be when he was with the Marlins. Everyone else is just an arm.

None of which is to say that the Padres won’t be fun to watch in 2018. They may not win a ton of games, but they’ll be super interesting from a team-building perspective. They’re past the purely talent accumulation part of a rebuild — like I said, that farm system is pretty stacked — and they’re now on the “learn how to win” part of things. If things go according to plan, many of the faces on this club will be on the next Padres club to make the playoffs. Think of Hosmer and Myers as those veterans who were around when things turned from bad to good, like, I dunno, Terry Pendleton in Atlanta or Magglio Ordonez in Detroit were. A few years later, when Tatis Jr. and Margot are studs, leading the Padres into yet another playoff battle, you may even forget how important the Hosmer signing truly was.

A pipe dream? Maybe. But it’s a dynamic we’ve seen with a lot of clubs before and it’s the one A.J. Preller and the Padres are counting on happening now. If things break right and they develop some pitching, this year will likely be seen as a turning point before the realization of future glory.

Emphasis on the future. For now, the Padres, however promising, are simply outclassed in their division and will likely finish in last place.

Prediction: Fifth place, NL West

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.