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The Padres are tanking

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Tanking is not a word to be used lightly, but if the Padres are seriously looking at Jered Weaver to ‘lead their staff’ then let’s not mince words.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Heyman recently wrote an article for FanRag Sports breaking down the top remaining free agents and news surrounding them. Sure, there’s some good insight into the top names left on the board; like where Greg Holland could wind up next season. However, it’s where the Padres first make an appearance that is of interest here.

See, the Padres don’t come up in conjunction with any of the top remaining names in free agency. In fact, the only reason they made any news this winter was by signing their only player of note, Wil Myers, to a six-year, $83 million extension, half of which covers his arbitration years.

No, the Padres don’t show up in the rumors of any of Heyman’s top 15 remaining free agents. The Padres wait until the appendix to make their appearance, where Heyman writes this:

“The Padres, who have taken advantage of the opportunity they offer and signed $1.75 million deals with Clayton Richard, Jhoulys Chacin and Trevor Cahill, made an offer for more than that to Jered Weaver, but that hasn’t been accepted to this point. The Padres clearly want someone to lead their staff.”

In case you missed it, here’s that last sentence again. Remember, it’s about Jered Weaver:

“The Padres clearly want someone to lead their staff.”

Now, I honestly can’t tell if Heyman is just being The Master of Sarcasm here or if Weaver is to be looked at as the leader of a staff. Is he serious, or is it just dripping with irony? After all, the Padres pitching staff does currently look like this:

29-year-old Jhoulys Chacin. Pitched 144 innings last year with an ERA of 4.81 and a FIP of 4.01. Not terrible, though the previous two seasons he managed just 90 innings combined.

33-year-old Clayton Richard. He pitched 53.2 innings for the Padres last year and did pretty well by ERA standards. His FIP was 1.67 points higher though. His previous stint with the Padres was in 2013, when he cost his team one win by FanGraphs’ WAR.

Okay, maybe the Padres did do something other than extend Myers. They signed 28-year-old World Series Winner Trevor Cahill. In 65.2 innings last year with the juggernaut Cubs, Cahill was exactly replacement level.

29-year-old Christian Friedrich. The good news: his switch from Coors Field was definitely felt in his ERA. In 58.1 innings with the Rockies in 2015, Friedrich posted an ERA of 5.25; a career-best at the time. The bad news: Petco Park wasn’t much better. Moving to Petco Park in 2016, Friedrich posted a 4.80 ERA over 129.1 innings.

Last, almost-29-year-old Paul Clemens. Clemens has been worth -1.7 FanGraphs’ WAR over the course of his career. I don’t want to dwell on this too long but that is nearly two wins below replacement level in 169.1 innings of work for three teams over three seasons. Yikes.

So, maybe I’m being too harsh. If Weaver could lead a major league staff still, maybe he could lead this one. But, let’s look at his numbers as well.

The 34-year-old veteran of 11 seasons was struck by a sharp decline last season. In an MLB climate of increased velocity, Weaver’s fastball lost nearly 3mph on average from just two seasons ago. Important side note: Weaver’s 2014 fastball already didn’t have 3mph to lose; it sat at 86.8mph.

That’s right, Weaver’s fastball sat at a tepid 84mph last year. In case you’re wondering, that would be slower than at least 36 MLB starters’ changeups from last season. Double yikes.

Now, velocity isn’t the only way to be successful in the major leagues. Mark Buehrle built a very successful career on his pitch selection and variation. Dallas Kuechel, Bartolo Colon, and Marco Estrada are all more-than-getting-by with sub-90s fastballs. However, Weaver isn’t getting by. He isn’t even surviving.

Weaver may have suffered from some unlucky BABIP last season. At nearly 30 points higher than his career average, we shouldn’t completely remove that possibility. However, opponents also slugged .517 and posted on on-base percentage of .345 against him. That’s like every batter you face being Carlos Santana or Christian Yelich. Slugging like Evan Longoria and getting on-base like Manny Machado. Triple yikes.

Perhaps I’m making too much out of just a rumor. It’s not like Weaver has actually signed. Although, even if the Padres are looking into Weaver as a valuable contributor to their 2017 season, that reads like evidence of tanking.

Tanking is hard to do in baseball and even harder to prove. Furthermore, most MLB entry drafts lack a consensus number one and even the years that do boast a consensus number one don’t guarantee that that player is a future star. However, having a starting rotation that currently costs a grand total of $7 million while actively looking like you don’t mind not winning; that feels like tanking.

They’re fully entitled to do so. But I’m going to call them on it.