Posted on November 29, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

Los Angeles Angels Garrett Richards

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It’s not often that the San Diego Padres sign a potential ace in free agency. But that’s exactly what they did on Tuesday. The Padres have reportedly agreed to sign starter Garrett Richards to a two-year deal worth $15.5 million plus $2 million in incentives. The caveat is that while Richards has shown ace potential in the past, he comes with serious questions over his health. In fact, his status for the 2019 season remains questionable.

For the last several years, Richards has struggled to overcome arm problems. Six starts into the 2016 season with the Los Angeles Angels, he was diagnosed with a high-grade UCL tear, a condition that usually requires Tommy John surgery. However, he opted for an alternative treatment that allowed him to avoid surgery despite keeping him out for the rest of the season.

Early in the 2017 season, a biceps issue sent Richards to the DL. He didn’t return to the big leagues until September. He was limited to six starts that season, matching his total from the 2016 campaign. However, Richards was healthy to begin the 2018 season and pitched well before being sidelined with a hamstring injury in mid-June. Soon after returning from that DL stint, Richards was once again struck down by elbow trouble. This time, he was unable to avoid Tommy John surgery.

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After having surgery in July, it’s uncertain if Richards will pitch at all in 2019. If he’s quick to recover, he may be able to join San Diego’s rotation for the second half of the season. However, it’s also possible that he missed the entire season. Thus, the Padres have signed him to a two-year deal with the hope that by 2020 he’ll be ready to lead their rotation.

When he’s been healthy enough to pitch, Richards has looked the part of an ace. In 2014, he was 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA. Richards was nearly as good the following year, going 15-12 with a 3.65 ERA in 32 starts. Before he was shut down for good in 2018, Richards posted a 3.66 ERA over 16 starts. If he can ever return to the form he had before the elbow problems, the Padres could have something special.

“A lot of guys come back from this surgery and they have long careers,” Richards said in July after learning he would need Tommy John. “Hopefully, this adds a few years on the end of my career. I’ll be back. Everything will be fine. I’ll get through this.”

While other teams showed interest in Richards, he seems to be a perfect fit for the Padres. San Diego has a loaded farm system, especially on the pitching side. The Padres believe that by 2020 they’ll be ready to compete in the NL West. By then, they hope Richards is healthy and can give their rotation a potential ace with plenty of experience.

Obviously, there’s some risk in this deal. Even $15 million over two years is a good chunk of money for the small-market Padres. If Richards never returns to full health, it’s a lot of money for San Diego to eat. However, a pitcher with Richards’ ability could be worth the risk. Even coming off Tommy John, Richards is a potential ace, which means there’s a decent chance this signing will pay off for the Padres in the long run.

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