Padres reliever Robert Suárez goes from half-decade in Japan to $46 million contract

San Diego Padres relief pitcher Robert Suarez reacts after striking out Los Angeles Dodgers' Max Muncy during the eighth inning in Game 3 of a baseball NL Division Series, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

San Diego Padres reliever Robert Suárez was quietly one of the best stories in baseball in 2022. Padres fans can now expect plenty more of him in the future.

After entering MLB as a 31-year-old rookie, Suárez has signed a five-year, $46 million contract extension with the Padres, according to MLB Network's Jon Morosi. The deal reportedly includes an opt-out after three years.

The contract is a reward for a stellar MLB debut season, as well as one of the more circuitous routes a pitcher can take to the majors.

Robert Suárez's path from Venezuela to the Padres is wild

A Venezuelan native, Suárez wasn't on the professional radar as a teenager, and was working as a supermarket security guard and construction worker in his native Caracas when most of his current peers were in the minor leagues.

At that point, Suárez was pitching in Venezuelan amateur and independent leagues, about as far a serious pitcher can get from the majors. But a former teammate reportedly saw something in him, opening up the door for Suárez to get a shot in the Mexican Leagues at the age of 24.

Suárez would post a 1.71 ERA in 47.1 innings for the Saraperos de Saltillo, generating enough interest to find a place in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball. He turned that into a bona fide career, holding a 2.81 ERA in five seasons split between the Hanshin Tigers and Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, though he also had to undergo Tommy John surgery at one point.

After six years in Japan, Suárez finally headed to MLB, signing a one-year deal with the Padres. The club believed his performance in Japan was real, as it gave him a $5 million salary, $1 million signing bonus and $5 million player option for 2023.

That $11 million financial commitment for a 30-year-old with no MLB experience makes more sense when you see the stuff we're working with here.

The stuff played. Suárez finished the regular season with a 2.27 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 47.2 innings. He was one of the Padres' most trusted late-inning arms in the postseason, which worked right up until Bryce Harper got a hold of an admittedly good pitch in the NLCS.

Even with that series-clinching home run, Suárez showed enough in his first MLB season to make him one of the most-wanted relievers in MLB free agency. The Padres had no qualms about betting on him again.