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The State of the Padres, post Winter Meetings version

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The 2018 Padres roster is starting to take shape. It’s time to take a look at the moving pieces in this chess game.

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The Padres have some clear needs around their roster, and plenty of rumors have begun to gain traction. It’s time for a quick trip around the diamond to see where the team stands at each station.

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Catcher

Austin Hedges is the clear starter, but he needs a backup. Hector Sanchez held the role down capably, but he’s now a free agent. Luis Torrens and Rocky Gale are the depth options on the 40-man roster. Raffy Lopez was recently signed to a minor league contract, and he’s a 30-year-old with some MLB experience who hits from the left side. It’s likely that a veteran will be signed for the role, and ideally it would be someone who hits from the left side and can spell Wil Myers at first from time to time.

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First Base

Wil Myers seemed to have the position locked down after signing a big extension last season, but the early rumors this offseason have cast some doubt here. The Padres have shown interest in free agent and former Royal Eric Hosmer, and they reportedly met with Hosmer recently. Wil Myers seems willing to move back to the outfield if he were to come aboard. Hosmer hits from the left side, and he has a knack for getting on base, which is something that the Padres struggled to do consistently last year.

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Second base

The Padres have a wealth of options in Cory Spangenberg, Yangervis Solarte, Carlos Asuaje, and Jose Pirela all positioned to make the big league roster. It’s very likely that one or more of them are traded, as there’s only so much playing time to go around, and the team may need to move MLB pieces to fill needs elsewhere. Luis Urias may inject himself into the conversation with a hot spring, but it’s likely that the prospect will spend most of 2018 in the minors. Expect plenty of trade talks with these names, and a competition for the job is certain to come in March.

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Shortstop

A week ago, the leading candidate was this guy: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Then the Padres went out and traded a minor league arm to the Phillies for Freddy Galvis. Galvis brings his premium defensive skills to a team that has been devoid of even average play at his position. Erick Aybar was only alright last year at a glance, but he was clearly one of the worst shortstops in the game when you look at his numbers. It’s been a decade of futility at a critical position for the Padres, and once again we’re looking for a near-term solution. A team that features groundballers like Clayton Richard and Luis Perdomo in its rotation needs premium defenders around the infield, and guys like Aybar and Alexei Ramirez all failed to get the job done. Galvis will be a breath of fresh air. Granted, he’s entering his final year of arbitration, so he could walk after the season. The team is keenly watching the kids down on the farm. Internal options Allen Cordoba, Jose Rondon, Javier Guerra, Luis Urias, and Fernando Tatis, Jr. are all in need of more time in the minors before deserving an MLB roster spot, meaning that the team may still be looking for a qualified backup.

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Third base

Christian Villanueva broke onto the scene late last year and impressed the Padres with his power and solid defense. Long considered a premium defensive prospect, Villanueva came to the Padres after burning out of the Cubs system due to injuries. With no minor league options remaining, he will have a chance to earn the job this spring, but he’ll have heavy competition from Solarte and Spangenberg. Then there’s Chase Headley, who was acquired from the Yankees along with a talented rotation candidate. Headley has been rumored as a trade flip candidate since he came aboard, but he might stick and make this situation complicated. Either way, something’s gotta give from this deep group of third basemen.

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Leftfield

Jose Pirela was the Padres’ most productive hitter last year, but we may have seen his very best, and he’s more of a second baseman than an outfielder. Wil Myers may get bumped out to left if the team signs Hosmer. Matt Szczur was a capable backup but is out of options and may get squeezed off the roster. Alex Dickerson is hoping to return to health from lower back disk issues, and his lefty power bat would be a welcome addition to the lineup. Travis Jankowski struggled last year after breaking his left foot, but the speedster figures to be a part of the Padres outfield as a starter or as a backup. Franchy Cordero may enter the conversation at some point this season, but he’ll start in the minors as he works through his high-K tendencies.

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Centerfield

Manuel Margot was outstanding in his rookie campaign and should only improve as he mans the position again next year. He has the range and the instincts of a premium defender at a premium position. He has the offensive tools to be a dangerous hitter near the top of a batting order. The question here is his backup. The answer is probably on the roster, but it’s between Szczur, Jankowski, and Cordero. Szczur is out of options as noted above, and his veteran presence may keep Jankowski in El Paso to start the season. If Cordero demonstrates that he’s taken a step forward, he could pass the rest and force his way into playing time.

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Rightfield

Hunter Renfroe put on a power display last year and figures to do so again this year, but he has plenty of questions to answer before the league takes him seriously. A propensity for strikeouts and struggles against right-handed pitchers may place him in a platoon or send him back to El Paso to work on his approach. A trip down to AAA did him some good last year, but he has a long way to go. The sub-par defense was a surprise last year, as he has the speed and athleticism to defend well in the corners, and he has one of the best arms in the game. They say that the game came at him too fast last year, so maybe he’ll find a way to get the game to slow down so he can improve his routes and make more accurate throws. In the meantime, he may be forced to split time with the other outfield candidates listed above.

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Starting Rotation

Clayton Richard, Luis Perdomo, and Dinelson Lamet seem locked into rotation slots. Robbie Erlin, Colin Rea, and Matt Strahm are all returning from injury and should be ready to compete for rotation spots as well. Bryan Mitchell was acquired in trade from the Yankees and may fit into the back of the rotation. Jordan Lyles was recently signed to a one-year deal with a team option. He would love a chance to reestablish himself as a starter, and pitching coach Darren Balsley will surely be tasked with working some value into the veteran. Last year’s prospects at single-A and double-A were impressive, but it’s unlikely that even one should make the roster this spring. Look for the team to add at least one or two veteran pitchers like they did last year with Jhoulys Chacin, Trevor Cahill, and Jered Weaver to shore up the instability. The team has expressed interest in bringing Chacin back, and Cahill is a free agent again as well. Nobody within this group is the caliber of pitcher to head a rotation, so don’t be surprised if the Padres make some noise to bring a potential Ace on board.

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Bullpen

Brad Hand effectively hushed any questions regarding his legitimacy as a premium reliever. His dominant performance combined with two more years of team control now makes him the most valuable relief trade target on the market this offseason. The struggles down the stretch experienced by many of the playoff teams only highlights the value of a reliable reliever who can get more than three outs against hitters from both sides of the plate. He might be with the team to start the season, but he’s probably more valuable as a trade chip to the Padres at this point. Behind him, the team has a plethora of young, controllable pitchers lined up for the relief role: Kirby Yates, Phil Maton, Jose Torres, Buddy Baumann, and Kyle McGrath all served quality roles in last year’s ‘pen. Colten Brewer was recently signed to a major league deal and joins prospects Brad Wieck, Jose Castillo, and Jose Ruiz on the outside looking in. A.J. Preller has a knack for finding minor league free agents and making waiver claims for former prospects and “change-of-scenery” types who go on to become power pieces for the team, so expect a handful of fresh faces to pop up soon.

This team is currently constructed of a core of solid young players who should form the foundation of the future teams with more of a chance at contention. The team outperformed its projections last year, so to expect a jump in win-loss record will require some significant improvements. That said, this team isn’t all that far from a .500 record, and that isn’t all that far from making some noise in a Wild Card race. The time for tanking is behind the Padres. It’s time for these players to learn how to gel as a unit both defensively and offensively. It’s time for this team to begin to establish themselves as a future contender. With the right additions this offseason, this organization should continue down the path toward contention, and they’ll be a lot of fun to watch along the way.