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Padres announce Ian Kinsler, DFA Clayton Richard(?!?)

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The Padres signed a veteran second baseman to a two-year deal and designated a clubhouse leader for assignment

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

A little less than a week ago, the Padres made a surprise signing that set #PadresTwitter on its side. It’s been clear that the team has needs on the left side of the infield, so people have been anticipating some kind of stopgap shortstop or third baseman signing. Instead, the team did this:

Ian Kinsler plays second base. Luis Urias plays second base. More on that later. Since the signing was rumored to be a done deal, we’ve been waiting for the official announcement and the corresponding move that would clear a spot on the 40-man roster for the new infielder. Pretty much everyone expected that this would be the death knell for Jose Pirela’s tenure as a Padre. Instead this just happened:

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres
Clayton Richard hasn’t been good, but nobody thought he’d be the guy DFA’d to make room for a veteran second baseman.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Clayton Richard is under contract for the 2019 season for $3M. While his performance on the field, particularly in the second half of last season, was poor, but the team has heralded his work ethic and the way that he’s taken the younger players under his wing. There were other candidates for the DFA treatment, so for the team to select a leader whose income will count against the payroll next season for assignment is a surprise. It was unlikely that he would return to a starter’s role, but it was assumed that the team would deploy him in a bullpen role.

One possibility is that the team has a trade in the works that has yet to be finalized. A more likely possibility is that he will pass through waivers, decline a minor league assignment, and enter the market as a free agent. Given his age and declining performance, a major league job is probably not waiting for him. His most likely path back is to accept a minor league deal with an invite to spring training and hope for the best. Something like what Chris Young tried last year.

Okay, so back to Ian Kinsler. The team has signed the 12-year veteran to a two-year, $8M contract with a team option for a third year. At 36-1/2 years old, Kinsler is well down the aging curve on the back end of a career that has earned him four All-Star Game selections and two Gold Gloves. The defense is still undeniable, as the second GG award came just last year, but the offense has been on the decline for the last few years. He’s spent his entire career at second base, so why would the Padres want his services when the team has the “second baseman of the future” ready to take the reins right away?

MLB: Seattle Mariners at San Diego Padres
Luis Urias worked hard to prove that he can play shortstop. Now he might be tasked with the job full-time, at least until Fernando Tatis Jr arrives.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

As AJ Cassavell has pointed out, Kinsler’s role on the team is likely to be a flexible one. The popular take right now is that Luis Urias is the favorite to start at shortstop, a position where he has spent quality time in the minors over the last two years to convince evaluators that he’s a legitimate option. The team is still considering additions at third base at this time. Wunderkind prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. is doing amazing things in the Dominican Winter League right now and is all but certain to get a call-up at some point in the season, but it won’t be on the Opening Day roster. When that day comes, Urias would probably move back to second base and Kinsler would slide into some kind of backup role. Kinsler isn’t opposed to playing third base, and while arm strength has never been one of his calling cards, he’s probably the best option the team has on the current roster. One troubling factor is that Kinsler has struggled to hit right-handed pitching the last couple of years and his power has diminished significantly, but maybe some regular rest could help keep him fresh? I don’t know, I’m grasping for straws here. It’s an odd move but this is where I should tell you about AJ Preller’s relationship with Kinsler from their time in the Rangers organization, and Kinsler’s reputation as a grinder and a winner and a clubhouse leader, and sell you some line about “prestige value” or some other Boras-esque buzz words.

Oh, and this is also probably where I should tell you that the Padres had representatives on hand when Troy Tulowitzki worked out in front of about a dozen teams the other day. Also, Manny Machado still hasn’t signed, and there are guys like Marwin Gonzalez and Mike Moustakas still looking for work. Meanwhile, Jose Pirela somehow still has a Major League job, somehow avoiding the DFA tag like Neo dodges bullets. By pretty much any measure I can find, Jose Pirela was one of the least productive players in baseball last year. He’s not a good defender anywhere, he doesn’t hit for power or possess even average speed on the basepaths, he doesn’t hit for average, and he’s not known for his dance skills or crazy dugout high-five routines or any other skills that give him any redeeming value... and yet he’s still up there on the depth chart.

It’s a confusing time for Padres fans. The offseason is still young and there are many more moves to come. Be patient, everyone. Keep the faith.