RHP Robert Suarez staying with Padres: Why the former NPB star earned a rare 5-year deal

The Padres and reliever Robert Suarez have agreed to a five-year, $46 million contract with an opt-out after three years, a team source confirmed to The Athletic on Thursday. The agreement is pending a physical. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The deal comes less than a year after Suarez, a former Nippon Professional Baseball standout, signed his first big-league contract with San Diego.
  • The righty tossed 47 2/3 innings in the 2022 regular season, garnering a 2.27 ERA, with 61 strikeouts.
  • The deal means Suarez, 31, is essentially the Padres’ closer of the future; incumbent closer Josh Hader is eligible for free agency after the 2023 season.

MLB reporter Jon Morosi first reported the new contract.

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Backstory

Suarez first signed with the Padres in December 2021 on a contract that included a $5 million player option for 2023. As expected, he declined the second-year option.

The Venezuelan spent the previous five seasons in NPB before coming to MLB, earning a 2.81 ERA and 1.161 WHIP in 205 innings pitched.

What worked for Suarez this year?

Suarez’s success was not a complete surprise; over the previous two years, he had emerged as a dominant closer for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. Still, there was the question of how his high-octane stuff would translate to the majors. The answer: Quite well, in fact. Suarez recovered from a disastrous big-league debut on Opening Day and, later, midseason knee surgery to settle in as the Padres’ primary setup man.

His fastball, which reaches triple digits, and his changeup were consistent weapons. He incorporated a cutter that demonstrated his ability to adjust. And his unflappable temperament carried over to the biggest stages; Suarez did not surrender a run in the postseason until the second game of the National League Championship Series. He ended up with a 3.00 ERA in nine pivotal playoff innings. – Linen

Does the contract make sense?

With Hader not far away from free agency, the Padres clearly needed to keep Suarez. Still, his new deal is an eye-popping commitment. Suarez will turn 32 on March 1, and longer-term contracts with relievers rarely end up in favor of the team. The Padres have firsthand experience: Drew Pomeranz was also 31 when he received a four-year, $34 million payday from San Diego, and Pomeranz has thrown fewer than 50 innings in the three seasons since.

All that said, Suarez’s impressive debut and other market factors, including Edwin Díaz’s historic deal with the Mets, likely meant the Padres had to overpay to re-sign him. In an ideal world, Suarez stays healthy, performs over the first three years of his new contract and opts out at age 34. The risk of that not happening is significant. – Linen

Other Padres offseason priorities

The Padres are still negotiating with the versatile Nick Martinez, who opted out of his own deal. Now that Suarez is coming back, Martinez — if he, too, returns — should have a relatively clear path to starting games for San Diego in 2023. Regardless of where he signs, the Padres need to add starting pitching. Martinez, in that capacity, is considered a back-of-the-rotation arm, and Sean Manaea and Mike Clevinger have departed via free agency.

The Padres also need to address first base, left field and designated hitter. Fernando Tatis Jr.’s eventual return from suspension should help, but the team could use at least one bat with some pop. – Linen

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(Picture: Orlando Ramirez/USA Today)

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