Padres sort through pitching surplus

SURPRISE, Ariz. — The Padres, as you may have noticed, have quite the abundance of starting pitching. They did before they traded for Sean Manaea on Sunday. They do even more so now.

So what happens with all that starting pitching?

There’s one school of thought that says the Padres simply keep it. There will be enough innings to go around. They learned the hard way last season that pitching depth is often fragile.

But the Padres seemingly have more MLB-caliber starters than places in their starting rotation. As such, they’ve engaged with other clubs on the possibility of dealing from within that rotation depth.

“It’s an area we’ve been hit on over the past few weeks and we continue to get hit on,” said Padres president of baseball operations AJ Preller. “Any time you build a position of depth, you expect to have conversations with other teams about it, and we have. But … having a lot of starting pitching for a 162-game season, that’s always important.”

Just last week, the Padres and Mets discussed a trade that would’ve sent Chris Paddack to New York. Preller, by matter of policy, doesn’t comment on rumors and trades that don’t come to fruition. But it seems clear that he’s willing to listen when rival teams call.

On Monday, manager Bob Melvin revealed the first three starters in his rotation — Yu Darvish, Manaea and Joe Musgrove, in that order. Beyond those three, the rotation is equal parts talent and uncertainty.

Mike Clevinger is expected to open the season on the injured list as he builds his way back from 2020 Tommy John surgery. Clevinger experienced some soreness in his right knee as he ramped up, and the Padres decided to pump the brakes. Another reminder: It helps to have that pitching depth.

With Clevinger out and Ryan Weathers having been optioned to Triple-A El Paso, the Padres essentially have four starting options for their final two places. Presumably, one of those spots will go to Blake Snell, whose buildup has been slow this spring. He will start the team’s Cactus League finale on Tuesday against the White Sox, with the anticipation that he’ll pitch three innings.

That leaves the Padres in a bit of a predicament behind Snell. Do they carry a sixth starter, perhaps Paddack, to piggyback Snell in the first trip through the rotation? The addition of Manaea — who is built up to a full starter’s workload — might make that less likely.

“With Blake, it just depends,” Melvin said. “Manaea helps in the fact that maybe you don’t have to. Depending on how many relievers we carry, is it a two-inning guy instead of a piggyback?

“All those things, we’re still thinking about. I wish I had more clarity. But some of these moves are going to go down to the last day. And, who knows, there’s probably the potential for some moves, some trades. “

Indeed, there are lots of moving pieces. The Padres could still use another outfield bat. They’re also interested in moving Eric Hosmer’s contract to create payroll flexibility. Their starting pitching depth could help achieve those aims.

But if they enter the season with a whole bunch of really good pitchers, they seem fine with that, too. The final place in the rotation might be a three-pronged decision among Nick Martinez, Paddack and MacKenzie Gore.

Realistically though, Martinez is the very, very strong favorite. Said Melvin after Martinez’s final start of the spring: “Pretty good luck; we signed him for a reason.”

Martinez pitched five solid innings in the Padres’ 11-5 victory over Texas on Monday afternoon. Having spent the past four years dominating in Japan, Martinez was tested with some tricky big league lineups this spring. That was no coincidence.

“Find out what works, find out what doesn’t,” said Martinez, who finished with a 3.00 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP this spring. “It’s nice to face those guys, facing guys that can do damage, and make our adjustments from there.”

If Martinez is in, that presumably would leave Gore to open the season in Triple-A, though he was excellent this spring, too. Prior to the Manaea trade, team decision-makers seriously contemplated giving Gore a callup. Paddack, meanwhile, is on the fringe, possibly bound for that piggyback role. Then, there’s Clevinger, who could return later this month, and Adrian Morejon, who could return midseason, giving San Diego a 10-deep rotation mix.

That’s an awful lot of rotation depth. Whether the Padres choose to trade from it or simply use it remains to be seen.

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