In an offseason that involved a flurry of transactions for the San Diego Padres, including big names like Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and James Shields (just to name a few); the acquisition of Jose Valverde might have gone under the radar for many fans. But the almost-37-year-old right-hander hopes to make a spash on the mound at Spring Training and maybe even earn himself a spot in the Padres' bullpen.
AJ Preller signed Valverde to a minor league contract in January and the three-time All-Star came to Padres Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. As of March 11th, he's made two appearances, pitching two hitless and scoreless innings while notching a couple of strikeouts and not walking a batter. A small, but so far effective, sample size for Papa Grande.
As someone who hasn't exactly been "relevant" in MLB for the last two years, Valverde is hoping to find an opportunity for a comeback with the Padres, despite a bullpen already ripe with depth. He spent a lot of time in his home in the Dominican Republic after being released by two separate teams over the last few years, but as Corey Brock suggests, that time at home may have helped him.
Valverde returned to the Dominican Republic to train, but also to rest his right arm, which to that point had a lot of miles on it.
Valverde had seven season of 50 or more appearances from 2005-12, and led the league in saves three times and was a three-time All-Star (2007, 2010-2011) along with twice finishing in the Top 6 in Cy Young Award voting. He admitted that he hadn't been himself, especially from a velocity standpoint, in recent years.
"The last two years, I didn't play a whole season in the big leagues, so I was able to rest my arm," Valverde said. "I think that's helped my velocity come back the way it has."
These days he's feeling like his old (er, younger) self again and ready to help the Padres in any way he can. We've seen a glimpse of that already this Spring in those aforementioned two shutout innings of work.
"I feel great," Valverde said. "The way I feel right now is how I felt my first year with the Diamondbacks [in 2003, at age 25]. It's my arm, mental, everything."
Another reason to be excited about the possibility of Valverde joining the big league club this season would be the addition of another dynamic and outgoing presence in the clubhouse. AJ Preller hasn't just added a powerful offense to the Padres roster this offseason, he's injected some great personality into the team with the addition of players like Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, and possibly Valverde.
Watching Papa Grande on the mound is a lot of fun. Unlike many other players who are all business when they hit the diamond, Valverde can't contain his enthusiasm and excitement for the game.
In a world that often looks down on athlete celebrations like this for being too unsportsmanlike and "unclassy," Valverde's mound antics aren't always welcome, especially by those hitting against him. But it's much easier to appreciate when it's on your team, and having Valverde celebrating so enthusiastically in a Padres uniform is a refreshing sight.
Getting a spot in the bullpen is probably a long shot for Valverde, and would probably take a really unfortunate accumulation of events surrounding the Padres' relief corps, but it's been fun seeing him out there in Peoria this Spring and he's made himself an easy guy to root for, so I'll continue doing so.