Padres' FA strategy likely to focus on short term

Padres' FA strategy likely to focus on short term

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres enter free agency this month with many of the same needs they had a year ago.

They'll be looking for a shortstop. They'll be looking for starting pitching. They'll be looking for relief depth. And they could add a backup catcher. Sound familiar?

Padres enter Hot Stove with infield questions

The difference this year -- and it's an important difference to point out -- is the two biggest needs on paper might be resolved by 2019. No. 4 prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. is viewed as the organization's shortstop of the future. And five of the club's top 15 youngsters were in the rotation at Double-A San Antonio this year.

Hot Stove Tracker

In any case, the Padres still need to fill those voids for 2018. Here's a breakdown of the upcoming free-agent frenzy.

Free agents: RHP Jhoulys Chacin, SS Erick Aybar, RHP Craig Stammen, RHP Jarred Cosart, LHP Christian Friedrich

Arbitration-eligible: RHP Carter Capps, C Hector Sanchez, LHP Brad Hand, LHP Robbie Erlin, RHP Kirby Yates, OF Matt Szczur

Biggest potential free-agent loss
Chacin fits exactly what the Padres are looking for in a free-agent starter: He'd only require a short-term deal and his upside is high enough that he could eat innings while sitting toward the front of the rotation. (Not to mention, he clearly loves pitching at Petco Park, where he posted a 1.79 ERA in 100 1/3 innings last season.)

That said, Chacin will have suitors in a relatively thin pitching market. If he commands multiple years, the Padres might pass, instead banking on the younger arms in their system. But there's little doubt his absence would be felt.

Potential free-agent targets
Chacin, Aybar and Stammen are obvious candidates to return. Stammen is a useful bullpen piece and Aybar could slot back in at shortstop -- though the Padres would like to find some competition for him.

Externally, former Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar makes sense. San Diego had the most ground-ball-heavy starting rotation in the Majors last season. Escobar -- who isn't the defensive wiz he once was -- would still be an upgrade over the past three seasons.

There are a number of options for the rotation and 'pen, many of whom fit the one-year reclamation-project mold. Behind the plate, the Padres could use a serviceable backup for Austin Hedges, and a veteran like A.J. Ellis or Rene Rivera might be a worthwhile pickup.

Wild card scenario
The Padres' biggest offseason question centers around Hand, arguably the top relief option available on the trade market. General manager A.J. Preller has already proven his willingness to keep Hand, but he's also made it clear he expects to receive offers.

If Hand (and, to a lesser extent, Stammen) leave, the Padres will find themselves in dire need of bullpen help. It's hard to envision San Diego opening the 2018 season with a relief corps centered around Yates and Phil Maton. Without Hand, it's likely the Padres pursue at least two veteran relievers to bolster a young bullpen.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.