Due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, is there a scenario where Garrett Richards could return to the Padres next year?
When the Padres signed Garrett Richards to a two-year, $15.5M contract in December 2018, it was a low-risk, high-reward signing, as the former Angels ace was coming off Tommy John surgery. The Padres knew that he would likely be missing all of the 2019 season, although Richards made three starts to close out the year.
He comes at an $8.5M price tag this year, and the Padres are hoping that he can be a major contributor to their rotation in a shortened season. The 32-year-old will hit the free-agent market in the offseason, but could he return next year? He was off to a blazing start in spring training, fanning six over 5.1 frames while walking just one in two starts.
“It’s everything,” Richards told MLB.com. “Not only the peace of mind, but just happiness in general, to be back playing baseball and not rehabbing. I’m really, really pumped about that.”
In the upcoming 60-game season, every five days pans out to about 11 to 12 starts, which is the perfect workload for a guy working his way back from a serious arm injury. The general belief is that MacKenzie Gore and potentially Luis Patino could slide into the Padres rotation as full-time starters next year.
Assuming that Richards remains healthy all year, I think it makes a lot of sense to bring him back in 2021, if the price is right, of course. But if he showcases anything like his 2014 or 2015 seasons, he could potentially price himself out of San Diego, who could go with younger, cheaper options already on the roster.
Richards was obviously in a good place in the spring exhibitions, and it would have been interesting to see his stat line right now under normal circumstances. You also have to wonder, no matter how well he pitches this year, will the contract he would fetch in free agency reflect the impact of a smaller sample size?
That could end up playing to the Padres favor, who could take advantage of the financial impact a shortened season has on how teams are going to approach free agency next year. Now, I’m not saying the Padres should break their backs or the bank trying to retain Richards because, as noted, they do have other directions that they can go.
With exception to Zach Davies, who will become a free agent after the 2021 season, the Padres’ rotation figures to remain intact for the next several years. We’ll see how Richards performs once the season is underway, but I’d love for him to find a home here in San Diego and be a veteran that the younger guys can look to for guidance.