The San Diego Padres 2016 rotation has a lot of question marks around it heading into the off-season and not a lot of easy choices. We know that it will include James Shields. After that we may not know much. While I would hope that it would once again include Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, many have speculated those two might be trade chips in order to build back up the minor league system which took a hit last year or as a way to bring in an offensive replacement for a team that will likely lose Justin Upton. Speaking of free agency, one of the toughest choices might be how the Padres pursue Ian Kennedy.
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As Bill Center writes, Kennedy made 30 starts for the 6th straight season with his strong start Thursday. In the last six seasons he is the only National League pitcher to make 30 starts each season. Of course teammate James Shields has made at least 30 starts for 9 straight seasons but all except for this year were in the American League.
He wasn’t quite as good this year as he was last year for the Padres, with a higher ERA, fewer innings pitched and almost twice as many home runs allowed. That said, he was able to cut down on his walks with almost the identical strikeout/9 ratio. In the second half this year he had 96 strikeouts in 84 innings which was 5th among National League pitchers for the second half in strikeouts.
Of course, like any other decision the one with Kennedy involves money. He made $9.85M this year after making $6.1M last year and certainly won’t be looking to make less money and at 30 will likely seek a multi-year contract. We already know that the Padres will have one bad contract on their hands with Melvin Upton Jr.making $18M. Yet beyond that a lot more of Matt Kemp‘s salary kicks in and the Padres go from paying $3M to over $18M on him. James Shields contract was structured similarly so next year the Padres will be paying $21M after just paying him $10M this year. Craig Kimbrel is at $11M so already in just a few players the Padres have about $68M.
Perhaps with that durability in Kennedy is the idea that you will avoid any Brandon Morrow/Josh Johnson situations where you are paying money to players that don’t contribute for even a significant portion or any of a season. The health of Ross and Cashner was one big positive this season for the Padres even if Andrew Cashner‘s season itself left much to be desired. I’m betting on a bounce back season from Cashner, if for nothing else that he has to have better luck than he did this year between all of the unearned runs allowed.
Perhaps when looking at Kennedy you have to really look at alternatives. Robbie Erlin impressed Saturday, though clearly you can’t project a whole season from one good big league start after a AAA season of mediocrity. I’m not ready to count on Casey Kelly or Cory Luebke either. Odrisamer Despaigne had more misses this year than hits but is a nice arm to have with bullpen/rotation flexibility and at a cheap price.
The biggest names in free agency for pitchers this year are David Price, Johnny Cueto and Zack Greinke. It’s unlikely the Padres will get any of them. Some options that might be viable are Mike Leake, Jordan Zimmerman, and Mat Latos. Perhaps even Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum, whose best days are behind him at 32 but he certainly loves to pitch at Petco Park as his no-hitter attests. The problem I have is that are any of those pitchers better than Kennedy? I worry that Preller sometimes likes to make a move for effect than actually thinking the whole thing out(See manager change). Or worse yet, that he got gun shy after his off-season moves didn’t work out and will be afraid to even fight for Kennedy when he wants to – see his inactivity at the trade deadline.
This is a CRUCIAL off-season for the Padres and GM A.J. Preller, as he can’t afford to make two years of bad moves and continue as the GM. Perhaps what he does with Ian Kennedy might be a key litmus test into the Padres future.