The Padres have shown interest in Red Sox outfielder Jarren Duran, reports Jon Heyman of the New York Post. They’re not alone in that regard, per the report, which indicates that multiple clubs have reached out to the Boston front office to express interest. There’s no indication any sort of deal is nigh, but Dennis Lin of The Athletic similarly hears that the Sox and Padres have had “recent” trade discussions as part of the Friars’ ongoing search for outfield help. San Diego has also considered a reunion with outfielder Tommy Pham, per Lin, though he further notes that no formal offer has been made.
Duran, 27, would fill an acute need for the Padres, whose only established MLB outfielder at the moment is Fernando Tatis Jr. Beyond Tatis and Jose Azocar, San Diego doesn’t even have an outfielder on its 40-man roster. Non-roster invitees to spring training like Oscar Mercado, Bryce Johnson and Cal Mitchell are among the current options to vie for a roster spot in spring training, although Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported earlier in the week that the Padres have also been considering the idea of deploying top shortstop prospect Jackson Merrill in the outfield this season as well. Merrill, the team’s first-round pick in 2021 and the game’s No. 17 prospect according to Baseball America, would also need to be added to the 40-man roster.
Duran is a former top-100 prospect himself, though he just broke through with his first real major league success as a 26-year-old in 2023. The now-27-year-old former seventh-round pick appeared in 102 games for the Red Sox and batted .295/.346/.482 with eight home runs, 34 doubles, a pair of triples and a 24-for-26 showing in stolen base attempts. Duran also trimmed his formerly problematic strikeout rate to a more manageable 24.9%, although his 6.6% walk rate is two percentage points shy of league-average.
While Duran has elite speed — 95th percentile, per Statcast — his route running and lack of arm strength have led to well below-average grades in center field. Defensive Runs Saved is most bearish, pegging him at -19 in just shy of 1200 innings, while Ultimate Zone Rating has him at -10.5 and Outs Above Average has him at -2. Azocar is capable of handling center field, however, so an acquisition of Duran could lead to him slotting into left field in San Diego, where his glovework would grade more favorably.
There are fair questions about whether Duran can sustain last year’s production at the plate, however. Last year’s .381 average on balls in play may not regress all the way to league-average levels, as players with elite speed can turn grounders into hits at a far higher clip, but Duran’s penchant for chasing pitches off the plate (career 35.1%) and below-average contact rate on such offerings has a tendency to undercut his above-average contact skills on pitches within the zone (92.1%).
Boston’s appetite for dealing Duran remains to be seen, but it’s worth noting that he was drafted back in 2018 and the Sox have now turned over their front office twice since making that selection. First-year chief baseball officer Craig Breslow doesn’t have the connection with Duran that predecessors Chaim Bloom and Dave Dombrowski may have. And while Duran is ticketed for a regular role with the Sox as the roster is currently constructed, Boston isn’t short on outfield alternatives.
Were Duran to be moved, the Sox could turn to Tyler O’Neill, Ceddanne Rafaela and Wilyer Abreu from left field to right field, with designated hitter Masataka Yoshida also mixing into the corners on occasion. Roman Anthony, Boston’s second-round pick from the 2022 draft, has already climbed as high as Double-A and recently placed 21st on BA’s Top 100 prospect rankings, creating further depth.
The Padres don’t have that type of outfield depth, due in no small part to years of aggressive win-now trades that have combined to thin out the system. San Diego has also been working to scale back payroll, which would make a pre-arbitration player like Duran a natural target. He’ll very likely be arb-eligible next winter as a Super Two player, but he’d fit the team’s desire to manage payroll during the 2024 campaign. And with just 1.155 years of big league service under his belt, Duran could be controlled for five more seasons.
Lin further reports that while the outfield is the greater focus at the moment, San Diego is still exploring the free-agent market for rotation help. He lists Michael Lorenzen, old friend Eric Lauer, and Hyun Jin Ryu as pitchers with whom the San Diego front office has spoken. Heyman, too, lists Ryu as a potential target for the Padres.
Of the three, Lorenzen is coming off the best and healthiest season. An All-Star for the 2023 Tigers, Lorenzen was traded to the Phillies at last summer’s deadline and thrust himself into the spotlight with a pair of dominant performances to begin his Phillies tenure. The converted reliever began to fade after a masterful 124-pitch no-hitter against the Nationals in early August, however, and his struggles snowballed to the point that the Phils dropped him from the rotation to the bullpen. Lorenzen closed out the year with a dismal 27 earned runs in 30 1/3 innings following that no-hit gem.
Lauer, 28, is a former Padre who went from San Diego to Milwaukee alongside Luis Urias in the trade bringing Trent Grisham to the Friars. He looked to be on his way to a breakout in Milwaukee after adding a slider to his repertoire in 2021, and from ’21-’22 he posted a combined 3.47 ERA in 277 1/3 innings. The 2023 campaign was a disaster that saw Lauer torched for a 6.46 ERA in 46 2/3 innings. Milwaukee optioned him to Triple-A to try to get him back on track, but Lauer yielded a 5.15 earned run average in a near-identical sample of 43 2/3 innings there.
Elbow and shoulder injuries have both sent Lauer to the injured list over the past two seasons. It’s possible that he wasn’t at full strength in 2023, given that pair of IL trips and a major dip in his average fastball (93.3 mph in 2022; 91.2 mph in 2023). If Lauer is at full strength, he’d be a nice buy-low option — particularly since his 4.111 years of MLB service make him controllable through the 2025 season for any team that signs him.
As for Ryu, he pitched well in his return to the Blue Jays following Tommy John surgery. The ten-year MLB veteran notched a 3.46 ERA over 11 starts and 52 innings, though his performance wasn’t without its own reasons for hesitation. Ryu only pitched beyond the fifth inning once in 2023, and the Jays never let him reach even 90 pitches in an appearance. Last year’s 88.8 mph average fastball was a career-low mark, and his 17% strikeout rate was his third-lowest in ten MLB seasons. Ryu was quite homer-prone in 27 innings in 2022 before undergoing surgery, but he was even more susceptible to the long ball last year, yielding nine in his 52 innings (1.56 HR/9).
Lorenzen might still have enough track record and interest to generate a two-year offer in free agency, but it’s likely Ryu and certainly Lauer will be available on one-year pacts that check in under $10MM — well under in the case of Lauer, who’d been projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a $5.2MM salary before being non-tendered. San Diego’s current $159MM payroll and $215MM luxury tax projection (via Roster Resouce) should leave some room for additional spending, even as the team looks to cut spending. Last year’s Padres payroll climbed as high as $255MM.