The Red Sox are nearing a deal with free-agent Garrett Richards
The Boston Red Sox are in advanced talks with free-agent starting pitcher Garrett Richards, according to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. The report indicates that a deal is within reach and could be announced this weekend.
Richards was once an emerging ace for the Los Angeles Angels. From the time he became a full-time starter in 2014 through his last year with the Halos in 2018, Richards went 34-25 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.168 WHIP and 8.5 K/9.
Unfortunately, Richards missed a significant amount of time during that span. He made only 31 starts between 2016-2019 with a total of only 147 1/3 innings in those four years.
While some will view his track record and assume this is a 33-year-old injury prone pitcher, that’s not entirely fair. The reason why he missed so much time can primarily be chalked up to the decision to try avoiding Tommy John surgery by choosing a platelet-rich plasma injection to treat a torn UCL in 2016. When it failed to fix his ailing elbow, Richards ultimately went under the knife for the dreaded surgery in July of 2018.
The San Diego Padres gave him a $15 million deal in free agency the following offseason knowing they weren’t going to get much out of him in 2019. He made three uneventful starts that year but it was an important step in his journey back to the big leagues.
Richards had a solid 2020 season for the Padres, going 2-2 with a 4.03 ERA in 14 appearances. He made 10 starts before San Diego moved him to the bullpen, in part to protect the workload on an arm that hadn’t seen much work in recent years.
While the overall results may seem mediocre, there were encouraging signs from his abbreviated season with the Padres. His velocity is back, with a 95.2 mph average velocity on his four-seam fastball that ranked 18th in the majors among pitchers with 50+ innings.
Richards is the type of pitcher that the analytics crowd raves about due to his elite spin rates. His fastball was in the 97th percentile in spin rate, per Baseball Savant. He also throws a devastating curveball with a spin rate in the 99th percentile.
He wasn’t quite as effective with the curve as he had been in the past while working his way back last season but he still generated a strong 34.8 Whiff Percentage with the pitch. Prior to undergoing surgery in 2018, Richards held opposing hitters to a .065 batting average and .079 wOBA with the curve.
Richards also relies heavily on a slider that held hitters to a .147 average and produced a 39.5 Whiff% last season. He mixes in a sinking fastball that maintains his elite velocity with a bit more movement.
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If the Red Sox manage to close the deal with Richards, he’ll join a rotation that includes Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez and either Tanner Houck or Nick Pivetta. Boston expects to get Chris Sale back around mid-season, in which case he’ll take the spot of one of those pitchers in the rotation. Boston could also consider temporarily using a six-man rotation if all their pitchers are healthy and performing well.
Details of the contract Richards is looking for haven’t emerged yet but given his age and injury history, it’s unlikely that he would command more than three years. The Red Sox would prefer a multi-year deal considering they have so many question marks on their roster that must be answered before they can deem themselves a contender. They’ll want to sign a pitcher who will stick around until at least 2022 when they should have more certainty about the core of their team. That’s probably why they lost out on the Corey Kluber sweepstakes since he clearly was interested in a one-year deal to prove himself before returning to a more lucrative market.
The two-year, $16 million deal that MLB Trade Rumors predicted he will receive sounds about right. It appears the sides are close to an agreement so the hold up at this point might be about whether or not some of that salary is based on incentives or if any money will be deferred. Boston could also be trying to negotiate a third-year option.
The Padres have loaded up on pitching this offseason and no longer have room to bring back Richards. He certainly has other suitors but the Red Sox are the clear front-runners at this point. Based on this morning’s report, they appear to be too far down the line to turn back now.