The Padres have signed free agent (and recent former Padre) Jordan Lyles to a one-year contract with a team option. In a corresponding move, the team designated Travis Wood for assignment. On the surface these are relatively minor moves, but there is sound reasoning behind each of them.
Travis Wood was acquired along with minor leaguer Esteury Ruiz in the mid-season trade that sent Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, and Ryan Buchter to the Royals from the Padres. The Royals picked up Wood’s salary for the remainder of the 2017 season as well as all of his 2018 contract, so Wood’s services were of no cost to the team. The lefty was seen at the time as another potential Darren Balsley rework project. While his excellent performance in 2016 with the Cubs as a reliever earned him his two-year, $12M contract from Kansas City, he was unable to establish himself as a reliable starter. After coming to the Padres, his struggles continued. 2018 will be his age-31 season. If the Padres believed that the lefty had a legitimate chance of turning his career around, he could have been another mid-season trade piece, but this move suggests that the team doesn’t expect such a turnaround to be in his future. He has now been designated for assignment. He may be claimed by another team, and with his veteran success as a reliever he very well may be claimed, but if he clears waivers he will probably decline minor league assignment with the Padres and opt for free agency.
Jordan Lyles was signed by the Padres as a free agent in August 2017 and struggled through five starts to an ugly 9.39 ERA. He was drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft, so he has the background of a top prospect. He made his major league in 2011 at the age of 20, but he’s never found consistent success at the MLB level. 2018 will be his age-27 season, so he’s relatively young by MLB terms. The contract he signed yesterday will pay him $750k for 2018 with a team option for the 2019 season. The conditions of the 2019 portion of the contract have not been released, but Dennis Lin reported that there are performance bonuses built into it. With only a $250k buyout, this is a very team-friendly contract for a player who has a chance to develop some value.
The challenge now is for Darren Balsley and his staff to find the upside and discern how to maximize what potential Lyles retains. Throughout his career, the righty has been an extreme groundballer, and he joins Clayton Richard and Luis Perdomo as well as newcomer Bryan Mitchell in what could be the most groundball-heavy staff in the league. With defensive wizard Austin Hedges behind the plate and an upgrade at shortstop in Freddy Galvis, Lyles should be able to keep the ball down and trust his defense to keep him in games. Elevated pitches were his death knell last year, as his home run rate spiked to over two homers per game. Lyles features a fastball and a slider that both run into the mid-90’s, a knuckle-curve with 12-to-6 movement, and a changeup that he’s struggled to keep down in the zone and subsequently in the park.
Darren Balsley has track records of success with pitchers with this kind of profile. Tyson Ross came to the Padres as a two-pitch guy with command issues, and minor tweaks to his mechanics and pitch selection made him a dominant pitcher. Drew Pomeranz rode a knuckle-curve to a 2016 All-Star selection and netted a top pitching prospect for the Padres. Trevor Cahill was successfully converted back to a starter last year prior to the trade mentioned above. The decision to retain Lyles and potentially send Wood packing suggests that the team saw untapped potential in Lyles, while Wood is who he is, and there is limited value in retaining his services for the 2018 season, even if it’s for free. With a team-friendly contract and some time to develop, Jordan Lyles may become the next success story for the Padres.