Last we heard, the Padres were interested in Joel Zumaya, the former Tigers’ stud pitcher. In fact, he was high on Josh Byrnes wish list according to Bill Center of the San Diego Union Tribune. However, the Padres have since acquired Andrew Cashner in a deal that sent Anthony Rizzo and Zach Cates to the Chicago Cubs. How much does this alter any attempts the Padres will make at signing Zumaya?
The bullpen, as it stands now, will consist of Anthony Bass, Luke Gregerson, Ernesto Frieri, Andrew Cashner, Joe Thatcher, Erik Hamren, Josh Spence, and Huston Street. If the Padres were to add Zumaya, they would have to dump one of their projected bullpen pitchers.
We know Luke Gregerson, Joe Thatcher, Ernesto Frieri, Andrew Cashner (most likely), and Huston Street are all locks for the 25-man roster. That means, the Padres would have to demote Erik Hamren, Josh Spence, or Anthony Bass. Each has shown signs of promise and would make it a difficult decision if the Padres were to sign another bullpen arm.
Erik Hamren saw 12.1 innings of action at the Major League level last year. He definitely experienced the culture shock of making the jump to the Majors. He posted a 4.38 ERA, struck out 10, gave up 10 hits, and walked nine. He posted negative WAR (-0.1). All that being said, Hamren has some upside. He has a three-quarters release with movement that, if he can control his pitches, will help him greatly. However, he also showed some significant flaws in his short time with the Padres last season. In October, Seedlings to Stars profiled Harmen.
“Hamren had lots of trouble keeping the fastball in the zone in his 12 1/3 big league innings. Just 64 of his 129 heaters (49.6%) went for strikes, and only two of those were swinging strikes,” wrote Nathaniel Stoltz. His Pitch F/X tracker showed a pitcher who failed to command the zone.
Josh Spence, on the other hand, had much better success in San Diego. He pitched in 29.2 innings last season and compiled a 2.73 ERA. He averaged 9.4 K/9 and had an ERA+ of 132. He still struggles with walks though as he averaged 5.8 BB/9.
According to John Sickels of Minor League Ball, “Spence seems ideally-suited for the role of bullpen lefty, but his experience as a starting pitcher gives him more potential stamina than the typical LOOGY type. While his lack of plus velocity gives him little margin for error, he shouldn’t be underestimated, and it is not out of the question that he could return to starting eventually.”
Spence seems to show more promise than Hamren, but 29.2 innings pitched is hardly enough of a sample to make any concrete decisions.
Finally, Anthony Bass comes into play. Bass has considerably more experience at the Major League level than the above-reference Hamren and Spence. And by considerably more experience, I mean 48.1 innings pitched. In that time, he put up a 1.68 ERA. His K/9 ratio is not spectacular, but his BB/9 is a solid 3.9. In his short time with the club last season, Bass managed to put up 1.4 WAR.
In Bass’ Major League debut, as a starter not a reliever mind you, he went five innings and gave up just one run. He made quite the impression with prospect evaluators. John Sickels of Minor League Ball wrote, “Indeed, many scouts feel that Bass fits best as a relief pitcher, given that his secondary stuff can be inconsistent. However, he’s shown a valuable ability to throw strikes and eat innings in the minors, and the Padres still believe he can be a fourth starter if he can bring that command to the majors.”
It seems that if the Padres still want to sign Zumaya, Erik Hamren would be the obvious choice for a demotion. His stuff could develop into Major League stuff, but for now he has underperformed. At this point, it seems unlikely that the club will sign Zumaya. However, if they do in fact sign Zumaya or any other bullpen arm, it would seem they will have a demotion decision ahead of them. That’s a good problem to have for any team.