Right-hander Seth Lugo has been drawing interest as a starting pitcher and Jon Heyman of The New York Post reports that working as a starter is Lugo’s preference as well, with the Padres one of several teams interested in him.
It’s been a while since Lugo has been tried out in a rotation role for more than a brief stretch. His career high for starts in a big league season is 18, which came back in 2017. Since that time, he’s been primarily working out of the bullpen, serving as an effective reliever for the Mets.
In 278 career games, only 38 of them have been starts, but Lugo has a career 3.48 ERA, 24.8% strikeout rate, 6.7% walk rate and 44.1% ground ball rate. He’s fared much better out of the ’pen, as his ERA is 2.91 there while 4.35 as a starter, with more strikeouts as a reliever to match.
Despite that split, as mentioned, it’s been quite some time since Lugo’s been given an extended stretch in the rotation. That means most of those stats came from Lugo’s first two years in the big leagues, when he made 26 of those 38 career starts. It’s possible he’s capable of producing better results now that he has more experience. He also has a larger pitch mix than the average reliever, something that could help him move through a lineup a few times. Last year, he had four pitches that he threw at least 13.7% of the time, with his curveball leading the way at 33.5%, followed by his four-seamer at 29.3%, his sinker at 21.9% and his slider at 13.7%. He also has a changeup that he mixed in 1.6% of the time, though it’s been 7.1% for his career.
For the Padres, they lost a couple members of their rotation to free agency in Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea, while also trading MacKenzie Gore to the Nationals. Nick Martinez opted out of his contract but was quickly re-signed and seems to have a chance of retaking a rotation spot himself, after getting bumped to the bullpen. They currently have Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in the front three spots. It would be surprising to see them go into the season with the last two spots in their rotation dedicated to unproven options like Martinez and Lugo, especially when they just reportedly offered Trea Turner $342MM. But it’s possible they could also add a fourth starter and have those Martinez and Lugo battle for the fifth spot with one of them going to the bullpen if everyone is healthy. Though Lugo reportedly prefers to start, it’s unknown how he would value a non-guaranteed starting role on a contender like the Padres against a clearer path to starting on a less-competitive team.
San Diego’s payroll limits are an ongoing question. As mentioned, they just made a massive offer to Turner, but some reporting indicates they were willing to make an exception for him and won’t necessarily dedicate those resources to other players. As of right now, Roster Resource calculates their competitive balance tax figure at $230MM, just barely under the lowest CBT threshold of $233MM. With the club still seeking to upgrade in the rotation and elsewhere, going over the line seems inevitable. Lugo isn’t likely to break the bank as a back-end rotation candidate but every dollar over the line will count. Since the Padres are set to be a third-time payor, they will be subject to a 50% tax on all spending over the line and even higher penalties if they go over by $20MM or more.
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