San Diego Padres: Projecting strengths and needs of 2023 bullpen

Aug 19, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres relief pitcher Josh Hader (71) reacts after being removed from the game during the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 19, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres relief pitcher Josh Hader (71) reacts after being removed from the game during the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports /

The question for the San Diego Padres following their National League Championship Series defeat is how they should go about building their bullpen for the 2023 season.

The resigning of Robert Suarez and Nick Martinez, combined with Josh Hader, give the Friars three quality bullpen arms for the coming campaign. The foundation is solid, but adding another piece to the puzzle would not hurt. And baseball fans know it will take a plethora of relievers to get through a 162-game schedule.

Josh Hader a proven commodity for San Diego Padres in the closer’s role

Hader’s performance in the 2022 postseason provided little doubt that he is one of the premier closers in Major League Baseball today.

Granted, Hader had a bout of ineffectiveness when he first arrived in San Diego. The low point was on a Sunday in Kansas City as Hader gave up six earned runs on five hits and two walks. The outing forced Padres manager Bob Melvin to take him out of the closer’s role. It was a short-term move as the Padres advancement in the postseason was dependent upon his effectiveness to close out games.

Hader won his job back by regaining confidence in throwing his fastball for strikes. He was outstanding for the final two months of the season.

Melvin loves using Martinez, Suarez, and Hader for an inning each once the Friars secure a lead. It is a formula that preserves a win on most nights.

Suarez is ideal for eighth-inning setup role

Nothing is automatic when it comes to free agency. There is always uncertainty if a signee can maintain the same productivity in a new location.

There was no doubt that Suarez would have been a sought-after bullpen target in this winter’s free market. And the Friars wasted little time to secure his services on a long-term deal (five years, $46 million).

Pitching-wise, Suarez had a solid rookie season. He developed into a high-leverage setup reliever late in games. Suarez had a 1.70 ERA in 47.2 innings. He possesses a high octane fastball that hitters have trouble putting into play. Suarez dominated the opposition by striking them out at over a 32 percent rate last season.

Despite the sour ending to the Padres postseason, Suarez showed he is a workhorse who can go multiple innings if needed.

Versatility of Martinez key to bullpen success

Last October, Martinez was one of the main cogs in the Padres postseason run. It surprised no one that he opted out of his four-deal with the Friars. Based on his postseason, Martinez was in line for a pay raise.

Thankfully, both sides came to a quick agreement that will keep Martinez in San Diego long-term. But if he made himself available on the open market, Martinez had a chance to become a starting pitcher or primary setup man elsewhere. Instead, Martinez elected to stay with the Padres.

He began the 2022 campaign as the fifth starter in the Padres rotation. Martinez posted a 4.03 ERA in 10 starts as he struck out close to 22 percent of the batters faced. The problem area was walking more than 10 percent of those opposing hitters.

In late June, Melvin moved Martinez out of the rotation. Instead of sulking, he became a valuable component of the Padres bullpen. In 46 innings, Martinez posted a 2.74 ERA as opponents batted .211 against him in 35 appearances. The strikeout ratio stayed the same, but Martinez lowered his walk ratio to just over seven percent coming out of the pen.

He may prefer to be a starting pitcher, but his effectiveness is limited because of being placed on a pitch count. No question, Martinez has shown to be more productive as a late-inning option in the Padres bullpen.

Chris Martin adds quality depth to the San Diego Padres bullpen

The Friars need one more quality arm to solidify their bullpen depth for the 2023 season. At 36 years old, moving down south is the perfect opportunity for Chris Martin to show he has something left in the tank.

He has shown to be a competent reliever during his stops in Colorado, New York, Texas, Atlanta and Chicago. But Martin transformed into a dominant reliever after being acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to the trade deadline.

Last season did not start well for Martin as he struggled (4.31 in 34 appearances) with the Cubs. But the move to L.A. afforded him to become a reliable late-inning option. Martin sported a 1.46 ERA in 26 appearances that allowed the Dodgers to extend their National West Division lead to an unsurmountable 22 games.

He brings experience and reliability to the Padres at a low price. Martin is the perfect opening act for Hader and company as a sixth-inning specialist. Plus, he is capable to be called upon in a save situation if needed.

Next. Change coming for Fernando Tatis Jr.?. dark

The Friars have already spent big money on their bullpen, but depth is key to contending. Hader, Suarez, and Martinez are an excellent starting point, but adding another quality arm to the mix should be the Friars next move.