Why the Padres are betting $15 million on a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery

The San Diego Padres have an eye toward the future, and that future now includes veteran pitcher Garrett Richards.

According to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan, the Padres agreed to a two-year, $15 million deal with the 30-year-old right-hander on Thursday. The caveat being that the Padres know it’s possible they won’t get a single pitch from Richards in 2019 after he underwent Tommy John surgery in July.

Contract details

Passan reports it’s a straight two-year deal for Richards. No opt-outs exists on either end. There are incentives though that could bring the deal to $18 million.

Why the gamble makes sense for the Padres

It’s all about 2020 and the hope Richards is ready to help the Padres when they think they’ll be ready to contend again in the National League West.

When healthy, Richards has been effective throughout his career, which until Thursday was spent entirely with the Los Angeles Angels. Since 2014, he’s posted a solid 3.15 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. The problem is, he hasn’t been healthy all that often. He’s only made 86 starts during that time while logging just 514 innings.

Still, it’s the upside that has clearly intrigued San Diego. Jeff Passan has Richards ranked No. 17 among all free agents this winter, and that’s entirely based on his upside.

The Padres have become more aggressive signing free agents under general manager A.J. Preller, but still rarely spend big. That makes Richards an ideal fit.

Signing Richards now could be the type of bargain San Diego will need to help fill out what should be a vastly improved roster in 2020. There’s next to no downside. If Richards doesn’t pan out, they can simply move on following 2020 and seek the next bargain.

Padres give rehabbing pitcher Garrett Richards two-year, $15 million deal just four months after Tommy John surgery. (AP)
Padres give rehabbing pitcher Garrett Richards two-year, $15 million deal just four months after Tommy John surgery. (AP)

Why it makes sense for Garrett Richards

Given his injury history and his current circumstances, Richards knew his market wouldn’t be strong. The San Diego deal gives him some security financially, and buys him time to fully rehab without any pressure of coming back too soon.

The Padres aren’t worried about 2019. They’ll give Richards as much time as he needs. If he’s ready to go by summer, it’s possible they’ll give him a few starts to evaluate his progress. But it’s a situation where the Padres stand to win if Richards helps them in 2020, and Richards stands to win by getting healthy and rebuilding his value.

It’s the same type of deal Nathan Eovaldi signed with the Tampa Bay Rays two years ago, only Richards will actually earn $11 million more guaranteed. Now Richards will aim to repeat Eovaldi’s success.

Eovaldi, 28 at the time, was coming off Tommy John surgery and ended up missing the entire 2017 season. Upon his return in 2018, he posted strong numbers in 12 starts for the Rays. Strong enough that the Boston Red Sox took notice and traded for him in July. Now Eovaldi is looking at a massive free agent payday after producing as a starter and a reliever during Boston’s World Series run.

There are several possible endings to this signing for both the Padres and for Richards. But the rewards far outweigh the risks on both sides, making it a deal neither side is likely to regret.

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