Padres Lose and Keep Mike Clevinger

The Padres made an announcement yesterday that Schrödinger would be proud of, releasing news that they had signed Mike Clevinger to a two-year deal covering his arbitration-eligible seasons and also that he would be lost for the 2021 season due to Tommy John surgery. In the short-term, they lose a talented starting pitcher they just traded for a few months ago. Taking a longer look, they’re betting on a solid recovery in 2022 and will be paying just $11.5 million in guaranteed money for that season’s work. (The details of the deal, per’s AJ Cassavell: Clevinger gets $2 million in ’21, $6.5 million in ’22, and a $3 million deferred signing bonus.)

The recent trade, the elbow surgery, and Clevinger’s arbitration eligibility make this transaction a little more complicated than it might look at first glance. First, the trade is essentially irrelevant at this point. While the Padres gave up a lot in quantity to acquire Clevinger, any cost is now sunk. San Diego certainly hoped for more than four good regular-season starts and a single postseason inning, but injuries prevented Clevinger from doing more, and the same arm trouble will now prevent him from pitching at all in 2021.

With the trade behind them, the Padres were faced with three options.

Option 1: Tender Clevinger a Contract

Clevinger earned a pro-rated portion of his $4.1 million salary last season, his first year of arbitration eligibility. While arbitration salaries are a bit murky this season, he likely would have been in line for $5 million or so in arbitration for next season and maybe another $6 million or more in 2022 after sitting out the ’21 campaign. That ’22 salary wouldn’t be guaranteed at all until the Padres tendered him a contract next December, and even then, only a small portion would be guaranteed at that time.

Assuming salary arbitration works the same under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2022, if the Padres didn’t like Clevinger’s progress, they could cut him all the way up to Opening Day and still only owe 45 days of termination pay (30 days if on or before the 16th day of Spring Training). This option has San Diego paying money now to retain greater flexibility for the 2022 season.

Option 2: Non-Tender Clevinger

The Padres could have opted to cut ties with Clevinger altogether, freeing them from any obligation to pay him next season and making Clevinger a free agent. It’s not clear exactly what kind of market there would have been for him: Having surgery this late in the year means no possibility of pitching in 2021, but he would have received some offers. Ahead of the 2018 season, the Twins signed Michael Pineda to a two-year for $10 million after Pineda had Tommy John surgery in the summer. The Padres have previously done something similar, giving Garrett Richards a two-year deal for $15.5 million before the 2019 season. Pineda was a solid add for the 2019 Twins team, though a PED suspension at the end of the year didn’t help. Richards put up useful numbers for the Padres last year, though the abbreviated schedule limited his impact. A non-tender would have enabled Clevinger to take the best deal on the market, though there would be uncertainty about the level of guarantee.

Option 3: Negotiate a Deal with Clevinger

This is the option the Padres and Clevinger chose. Technically, trying to trade Clevinger might have been an option, but given the strong chance of a non-tender, it’s unlikely teams would have offered much for a player they believed they could sign in a few weeks.

This new deal pays Clevinger pretty close what he would have received in arbitration over the next few years; that Clevinger gets that money guaranteed is a benefit to him. Compared to simply tendering him a contract, the Padres lose some flexibility in terms of cutting Clevinger next year if recovery goes poorly. What they gain is spreading out the money over the next few years in a way that’s more advantageous, with just $2 million owed to Clevinger next season and a reasonable $6.5 million salary in 2022 (plus a deferred $3 million signing bonus) for a total of $11.5 million.

That guarantee is close to what Drew Smyly will make next season with Atlanta and not much more than Robbie Ray will earn in Toronto ($8 million), and as noted above is in line with past contracts for Richards and Pineda. Clevinger’s recent history suggests he is a lot better than those pitchers, and the Padres just locked him in for 2022 at a fairly reasonable price. There’s a chance it might not work out and Clevinger comes out of rehab just a bit too rusty, but it was a deal worth making for most any team; it just happens that San Diego happened to have exclusive negotiating rights.

As for the Padres themselves, they looked like an easy 90-win team heading into the offseason. Without Clevinger, they are probably still in that same territory, but their rotation has lost some firepower that they aren’t likely to be able to replace. San Diego still has Dinelson Lamet, Chris Paddack, and Zach Davies, but there are a decent number of questions about Adrian Morejon, Luis Patiño, Joey Lucchesi, and prospect MacKenzie Gore, and while they have some depth and some talented options for the end of the rotation, they might need to add another starter to bring a little more stability for next season. The good news for San Diego is that it still has plenty of talent to build on its breakout campaign while waiting for Clevinger to come back in a year and make the team that much stronger.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
3 years ago

This seems like a no-brainer for Clevinger but I am struggling to understand this from the team’s perspective.
If we think the arbitration salary would have been $5M/$6M,
then sure, switching it to $2M/$6.5M(+$3M) might be slightly preferable,
but the net present value of that change is <$1M under reasonable assumptions.
For that, the Padres are giving up a pretty big chunk of flexibility
that could have protected them against the surgery and the post-op rehab going poorly.
Basically the Padres sold Clevinger insurance for dirt cheap.
I cannot help but think sunk cost factored into this extension.

3 years ago
Reply to  tung_twista

I can’t think of any scenario where they don’t want Clevinger for $6 m AND they know that before the end of spring training.

It’s possible he has a setback, but I don’t think it’s likely that they know before, say, April 2021.

But I agree that there is really very little upside for the Padres.

Smiling Politely
3 years ago
Reply to  dl80

If SDP thinks he’ll be good again in 2021, then you get the pitcher, first shot at signing him, and/or the ability to trade him mid-season for whatever you need to catch the Dodgers?

I don’t think it’s a bad strategy necessarily, though I think it would make more sense for a borderline WC team than an actual contender given that the best possible outcome isn’t *super* likely (and costs for replacements are likely to be higher, later, as the economy recovers).

3 years ago
Reply to  dl80

You are right that the Padres won’t have a good sense of Clevinger’s recovery in 2021,
but the key decision was always going to be for 2022 when they look at a 31 year old pitcher who threw 130+ innings once in his career and recovering from his second Tommy John surgery.
To be clear, I think it is very likely that in spring 2022, the Padres would be happy to retain Clevinger’s service for ~$6M, but a) they did not need to make that decision now and b) if they were going to, they could/should have asked for something more in return.

3 years ago
Reply to  dl80

It’s not about this season coming though, it’s about 2022. They could have just offered a 1-year deal for 2021 and still retained control over him for 2022. They certainly should have a better idea of where he’s at and whether they want to pay him for 2022 a year from now, and you wouldn’t think he’d get more in arbitration if they did end up wanting to tender him a contract for 2022 than what they gave him anyway.