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Clayton Richard unceremoniously exits San Diego

The Padres needed to make room after signing Ian Kinsler and Richard was the odd man out.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Following the official announcement that the Padres had signed Ian Kinsler to a two-year $8 million contract, the Padres designated Clayton Richard for assignment. It’s a somewhat surprising move. Richard had just one year left on his own two-year deal, and the Padres owed him just $3 million for 2019.

Richard had a down year in 2018. In 158 2/3 innings, he had a 4.64 FIP and 4.91 DRA, but the DRA is an improvement over his career averages. If the Padres were disappointed, I don’t know what they were expecting.

Richard missed the final month of the 2018 season with a knee injury, so it may be that the Padres weren’t certain he could be healthy for 2019. Maybe there’s something in the medical report they didn’t like. Richard will enter his age-35 season, so he doesn’t have to bounce back from knee injury.

Maybe they saw that in his two years since returning to San Diego, he’s given up far more home runs than he used to. It’s hardly an encouraging sign when he pitches half his games in San Diego.

Maybe it’s just that after the Padres signed Garrett Richards they figured they couldn’t have the two on the same team. It’s already hard enough to tell them apart.

To add Kinsler, the Padres needed to open up a roster spot, and they felt that Richard’s was the most expendable. That’s odd considering the Padres opted to tender Bryan Mitchell a contract, and Mitchell walked more batters than he struck out in 2018. In 73 innings, Mitchell pitched to a 7.10 DRA. It makes some sense for the Padres to want to give Richard’s innings to their younger pitchers, but I don’t know what else they need to see from Bryan Mitchell.

It’s hard not to feel for Richard especially since this comes on the heels of the Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill signings. The Angels just handed out a combined $20 million to Harvey and Cahill who are both expected to be about as good or worse than Richard. If Richard’s health is a concern, it’s not as if Cahill or Harvey don’t have injury problems of their own.

Steamer Projections

Player IP FIP xFIP fWAR Contract (Before Incentives)
Player IP FIP xFIP fWAR Contract (Before Incentives)
Matt Harvey 153 4.79 4.73 1 $11 million
Trevor Cahill 107 4.12 4.01 1.3 $9 million
Clayton Richard 179 4.21 4.14 1.7 $3 million

The Padres jilting of Richard means that another low-risk starter is on the market. It’s hard to think of a team that couldn’t use him as a depth option. Richard may not be the most exciting pitcher, but there’s much to like about him. In the last four seasons, Richard has induced a 59.3 percent ground ball rate likely because he dropped his arm slot.

He could pair nicely with a team like the Athletics that have elite infield defense. The A’s also make sense because of the way they handle their starters. Pitching behind an opener ought to keep Richard from facing the top of the order a second or third time. Richard pitched nearly a third of his innings last year facing the order three or more times. Oakland’s bullpen is also a bit more capable than San Diego’s, so he shouldn’t be left out to dry so often.

Richard should find major league employment next year. He won’t be the missing piece to a puzzle for any team, but if he’s used wisely, he could be better than expected.

Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and McCovey Chronicles.