Josh Hader hints he finessed Padres before signing massive Astros contract

Did former Padres closer Josh Hader finagle the system?
San Diego Padres pitcher Josh Hader
San Diego Padres pitcher Josh Hader / John Fisher/GettyImages

Former San Diego Padres closer Josh Hader signed the largest present-day value contract for a reliever in Major League Baseball history. Hader inked a five-year, $95 million contract with the Houston Astros last week. When it's all said and done, the five-time All-Star may be able to put his résumé up against some of the greatest who've ever done it.

But the restrictions that Hader put on his own usage have always been a topic of conversation. Not once during his entire Padres' tenure did Hader work multiple innings, and only once last season did the left-hander enter a game before the ninth inning.

Recently, Hader was interviewed by MLB Network, and when the question surrounding his innings-restrictions arose, the newly-anointed Astros' closer had some intriguing comments. Hader cited his discussions with team officials during the arbitration process as the biggest reason why he only pitched one inning per outing.

Josh Hader hints he finessed Padres before signing massive Astros contract

Hader went to arbitration with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2020. He requested $6.4 million, and the Brewers countered with $4.1 million. An arbiter ruled in Milwaukee's favor, and that may have set the tone for Hader's future as a reliever. The Brewers and Hader avoided arbitration the following two seasons, and the lefty was dealt to the Padres at the 2022 trade deadline.

When Hader arrived in San Diego, he had one more year of team control beyond the 2022 season. The Padres and Hader avoided arbitration last spring and agreed to terms on a $14.1 million salary. But whatever was said during that 2020 arbitration hearing has stuck with Hader over the years.

During his first three years in the major leagues, Hader made 80 multi-inning relief appearances. But since the 2020 season, there's only one occasion (August 14, 2020 versus the Chicago Cubs) in which the left-hander pitched more than one inning.

Traditional arbitration calculations likely led to Josh Hader's restricted usage.

During his interview with MLB Network, Hader spoke about the traditional closer's role being "where the value is" for relievers. It insinuates that during his arbitration hearing back in 2020, Hader received a tidbit of information he was going to take with him going forward.

Essentially, Hader suggested that if he was going to be subjected to the arbitration system, then he wasn't going to put himself at risk outside of taking on the traditional role of a closer; which is to pitch in the ninth inning with the lead.

Hader pitched in 61 games for the Padres last season and finished 52 of them. The southpaw converted 33 of 38 saves along the way. Those saves, while somewhat antiquated in today's game, are viewed favorably during arbitration hearings.

With Hader off to the Lone Star State, the Padres are left with an NLCS appearance and a compensatory selection in next year's MLB Draft in exchange for his time in San Diego. Pads fans can't be too upset, though, because no amount of Hader multi-innings appearances would've saved them in the midst of their terrible 2023 season.