On Saturday, the Padres announced they have signed veteran right-handed relievers Craig Stammen and Kazuhisa Makita to two-year contracts. Stammen will reported receive $4.5 million across the two seasons. Makita landed a $4 million payday, and cost the Padres a $500,000 posting fee to his former club in Japan, the Seibu Lions.
Source: The Padres paid a $500,000 posting fee to the Seibu Lions for Kazuhisa Makita.— Dennis Lin (@sdutdennislin) January 7, 2018
Stammen, 33, resurfaced with San Diego last season after bouncing around a bit from 2015-16, throwing 80 1/3 innings with a 3.14 ERA and strong strikeout (8.3 K/9) and ground ball (51.6 percent) rates. He was a workhorse for Padres skipper Andy Green; Stammen was fourth among relievers with those 80 1/3 innings.
As for Makita,. He has been a full-time reliever for two years now, and had a 2.30 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings in 2017. Here is some video of Makita from the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Check out his delivery:
Stammen and Makita will join holdovers Kirby Yates and All-Star Brad Hand in Green's likely "Circle of Trust" this coming season, at least in theory. Hand has been on the trade block for more than a year now, and it stands to reason the rebuilding Padres will continue to make him available. If anything, adding Stammen and Makita could make Hand more available because the Padres have added bullpen depth.
The 27-year-old Hand won't become a free agent until the 2019-20 offseason and he has emerged as one of the dominant relievers in baseball the last two seasons. Last year he threw 79 1/3 innings with 104 strikeouts and a 2.16 ERA, and also saved 19 games in 21 chances after taking over as closer at midseason. Hand has been electric the last two years. The Padres struck gold when they claimed him off waivers from the Miami Marlins two Spring Trainings ago.
The free-agent bullpen market has been very active this offseason. It is the only free-agent market that has been active this offseason, really. As of this writing, 23 relievers have signed guaranteed major-league contracts this winter while only 22 players at all other positions combined have signed a guaranteed deal. Teams are building their rosters from the ninth inning forward, it seems. They're prioritizing deep bullpens more than anything.
As good as Hand it is, it makes a world of sense for the Padres to trade him soon. For starters, there is the injury risk. Pitchers tend to break down, and the longer San Diego holds on to Hand, the more risk they assume that he'll get hurt and lose all value. There's also this:
- The reliever market is booming right now and there might not be a better chance to get a quality prospect package for Hand than this offseason, given the year he just had and his two seasons of team control.
- Baltimore Orioles closer Zach Britton blew out his Achilles a few weeks ago and was effectively taken off the reliever trade market. Because of that, Hand is now the best lefty reliever available. Teams interested in Britton may now pivot to Hand.
The Padres did not need to re-sign Stammen and sign Makita to trade Hand. They are rebuilding with no real expectation of contending in 2018 -- for what it's worth, FanGraphs pegs the Padres as a 71-91 team this year -- so trading their best reliever (best player?) for prospects wouldn't change much in the grand scheme of things. Trading Hand would add prospects to what might already be baseball's best farm system. It would be business as usual for a non-contender.
At the same time, adding Stammen and Makita does give the Padres more bullpen options, and if nothing else, it means they won't have to scramble for arms later in the offseason, after a hypothetical Hand trade. Someone has to throw those innings out of the bullpen to avoid overworking younger arms like Dinelson Lamet, Luis Perdomo, and Bryan Mitchell. Now Stammen and Makita are around to do it, lessening the need for Hand.