Kennedy a good deal for Padres

The Padres are hoping Ian Kennedy can return to his 2011 form, when he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA. (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

The San Diego Padres bolstered their starting pitching just a few hours before the trade deadline Wednesday, acquiring Ian Kennedy from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for left-handed relief specialist Joe Thatcher and minor-league pitcher Matt Stites. The Diamondbacks also will receive a compensatory (B) lottery pick from the Padres, which will be between the first and second rounds.

The Padres had been looking internally to reinforce their pitching staff for some time because of  injuries and lackluster performances. The Padres and the front office were adamant about netting a pitcher who was relatively young, controllable, cheap with a good upside and front-of-the-rotation potential. The Padres may have added just that in Kennedy.

The early consensus around baseball seems to be Kennedy may end up being a steal for the Padres. Kennedy, 28,  is under team control through 2015 and is an arbitration eligible player who will be making $4.265 million this year and projects to make about $6 million. He is only two years removed from finishing fourth in the National League Cy Young voting in 2011, where he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 222 innings. The Padres also needed to take the pressure of their young pitching prospects who are on the mend and likely will be coming back in 2014 to compete for a starting spot in the rotation. Suffice it to say, a pitcher who is capable of giving you 200 or more innings every year will help solidify the staff  and could be invaluable.  Last year, Kennedy went 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA for the Diamondbacks in a very unforgiving park in Arizona. This year, has been underwhelming for Kennedy. He is having his worst major-league season with a 3-8 record and a 5.38 ERA.

Why such a decline the past two years?

His velocity has increased about a full MPH from last year. That doesn’t scream injury issue. A decline in velocity is often what evaluators look at when seeing such a drop-off in performance. The Padres are banking on a change in scenery, working with one of the best pitching coaches in the game in Darren Balsley to help Kennedy get back to his 2011 form. In addition, manager Bud Black has a great track record for working with pitchers. Kennedy also will be leaving one of the most hitter-friendly parks this year, according to Fangraphs, which ranks Arizona as the third best hitter-friendly park in baseball. In contrast, PETCO  is tied for the fourth-friendliest pitcher’s park this season. Kennedy, in 35 2/3 innings, has an ERA of 2.27 at PETCO Park, the second best of his career.

The Padres gave up Thatcher, 31, who in 30 innings has gone 3-1 with a 2.10 ERA as primarily a lefty specialist. He is striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings. Thatcher seems to be expendable, given the Padres’ desperation for starting pitching and their left-handed relief help. The Padres likely will look to left-handers Tommy Layne and Colt Hynes, who was recently promoted, to fill Thatcher’s spot.

The intriguing pitcher the Padres did let go is Stites. He is 23 and stands 5 foot 11, and might be a bit overlooked because of  his small stature even though he has touched triple digits and performed well across the board. This year, he’s 2-2 with a 2.08 ERA with 51 strikeouts and only eight walks in 52 innings. Some scouts like him a lot, and others don’t seem to be as high on him, but he does have closer make-up with his plus fastball and slider. He pounds the strike zone and seemingly doesn’t get hit much.

The numbers are there for Stites, and his ceiling is attractive, especially for a team such as the Diamondbacks, who have had one of the worst save percentages this year in the National League. Just as the Padres have been desperate for starters, the Diamondbacks were equally (if not more chasing the Los Angeles Dodgers in a pennant race) desperate to add pieces to a struggling bullpen.

This was a no-brainer for the Padres in an attempt to land a potential front-of-the-line starter, while hopefully anchoring the pitching staff through 2015. The Padres are parting with two relief pitchers, both of whom were expendable because of the Padres’ depth. While Thatcher is one of the better lefty specialist in the National League this year, the Padres needed to put more emphasis on starting pitching, and while doing so, they didn’t give up one of the most prized commodities in set-up man Luke Gregerson or veteran closer Huston Street.

I like seeing the Padres and General Manager Josh Byrnes selling high on Thatcher, whom the Padres may already have in Hynes,  Layne or others in their system while only giving up a decent arm in Stites. Having said that, this trade should work out for both teams in the long run, even though it appears the Padres have the early clear edge.


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