Padres need to exploit PETCO Park’s only advantage

Re-signing or replacing Heath Bell is a huge priority for the San Diego Padres. (Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

The one advantage PETCO Park gives the Padres is the ability to lure pitchers into its spacious confines. The Padres have a wealth of starting pitching depth, but their bullpen depth has been depleted since last offseason. Losing Heath Bell would make the bullpen an offseason priority. I think the Padres need to sign at least one quality reliever this offseason and at least two if Heath Bell goes elsewhere. There are several pitchers on this year’s free agent market that could be fitting.

First of all, the Padres could bring back Aaron Harang and/or Chad Qualls who are both free agents. While I wouldn’t mind re-signing either one, I’d prefer to let Harang walk if it means a compensation pick in next year’s draft. Qualls would be a nice player to bring back, but I wouldn’t count on him in a late-inning role.

If Bell isn’t our closer in 2012, I’d like to see the Padres add a reliever with closer experience. The obvious free-agent closer on most people’s minds might be Jonathan Broxton, but I have a different suggestion. How about Kerry Wood? He has reiterated time and time again that he wants to play for the Cubs, but maybe the opportunity to close would be enticing. The pitchers I’ve looked at fit a certain criteria. These pitchers shouldn’t command a long-term contract and won’t be as expensive as Bell. I also believe the Padres should look at fly-ball pitchers who may excel in PETCO Park. Another cheaper option with closing experience is Joe Nathan. Nathan has been a fly-ball pitcher (45.2%) throughout his career, and he looked like his old self at times last year. The aforementioned Wood has also been a fly-ball pitcher throughout his career (41%) and even more so since he transitioned into a reliever.

There are a few more interesting relievers on the free agent market who have been fly-ball pitchers throughout their careers:

Joel Zumaya (46.4%)

Takashi Saito (43.8%)

Scott Linebrink (41.1%)

Juan Cruz (41.1%)

Obviously these pitchers aren’t the only attractive free-agent relievers on the market. I’m simply suggesting that this type of pitcher could be especially effective pitching in PETCO Park.

I also believe the Padres should consider trading some of their starting pitching depth to acquire a bat. They desperately need to improve their offensive production and the free-agent market isn’t going to offer much. If they trade some of their starting pitching depth, they could use this advantage to temporarily fill the holes. If there isn’t confidence in their starting pitching prospects, they could sign a free-agent starter.

We saw Harang resurrect his career in PETCO Park this year, and part of his success could be due to his fly-ball rate (41%). The Padres could bring Harang back or seek a similar replacement. While the Padres will probably go after a more attractive pitcher who demonstrates better overall “stuff” than my next possible rebound-year pitching candidate, they could turn to Armando Galarraga. Galarraga is much younger and has shown flashes of a very good pitcher. I believe his high fly-ball rate is one of the reasons he didn’t succeed in Arizona. Galarraga has a career 42.5 fly-ball percentage and could do very well in PETCO Park. Another interesting player I thought of is Tim Wakefield. It’s hard to imagine Wakefield in another uniform, but it’s possible he could jump at the chance of starting regularly in PETCO Park. He’s another fly-ball pitcher (43.5%) and the National League hasn’t seen much of his floater. He didn’t have a productive year and could use a change of scenery.

There are also some non-tender candidates that are fly-ball pitchers who could be a fit for the Padres:

Kevin Slowey (47.9%)

Rich Hill (45.3%)

Micah Owings (43.2%)

Much like the market for relievers, there are several more interesting starters than I have suggested. I just wonder if this kind of approach could give the Padres an edge and make them a better team. Maybe this approach could give them the same production from a cheaper player.

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