Padres must pivot after key free agent target will probably end up playing overseas

San Diego is running out of options to address their rotation with every passing day.
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It isn't exactly newsworthy to suggest that the San Diego Padres need more starting pitching before the start of the 2024 season. Sure, they have some interesting arms in camp right now like Robby Snelling, Drew Thorpe, and Jairo Iriarte, but the Padres also lost 60% of their starting rotation to free agency, and giving all of those slots to unproven commodities could be unwise.

The issue, of course, is that the Padres can't spend like they used to to address this problem. While two of the best free agent pitchers in Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell are still available on the open market, there's almost no chance that San Diego is a player for either of them. However, one intriguing option that had been floated as a Padres target for this coming season is Hyun-Jin Ryu.

The fit for the Padres was pretty clear with Ryu. They are very familiar with him from his days with the Dodgers, he wasn't set to be particularly expensive, and his upside is tremendous (assuming he's healthy). The biggest issue with him was that his track record of staying healthy has been pretty atrocious and he hasn't been the same pitcher since 2020.

However, it appears as though all of that is moot now. It looks like Ryu is making the surprising move to head back to the KBO after 10 seasons in MLB.

Hyun-Jin Ryu heading back to Korea limits the Padres' options

With Ryu seemingly off the market, the Padres' options are very limited when it comes to addressing their rotation. However, the move does make some sense from Ryu's perspective. Signing back with the KBO allows him to finish his career near his home, and the truth is that with all of the injuries he has had to endure, his days in the big leagues were probably numbered. There was also no guarantee he would be able to pitch a full season in the big leagues, which, for a pitching starved team like the Padres, would have been unfortunate.

For San Diego, the path forward is less clear. The Padres are likely looking for arms that won't require a long-term commitment and in a lower price range (perhaps $8-$15 million as they look to remain below the luxury tax threshold). Mike Clevinger is still out there, but it's debatable as to whether AJ Preller wants to try him again. Michael Lorenzen is probably the best option in terms of fit, but he may want more years than the Padres want to give. San Diego checked in on Noah Syndergaard, but that seems more like buying a scratch-off lottery ticket as a last resort than an actual plan.

Perhaps the best route at this point is to try and see what the Padres' young arms can do while keeping a close eye on starters that get cut elsewhere during spring training. It isn't an ideal plan, but one that that does have some upside and may be the best one with Ryu off the market.

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