SAN DIEGO -- Welcome to the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, San Diego.
The Padres met with the free-agent outfielder last week, and though it's unclear what came of that meeting, the team's interest in signing Harper is legitimate. He's a franchise-altering talent and could anchor the middle of the San Diego lineup for most of the next decade.
Of course, were the Padres to sign Harper, they'd need to clear up a few other things with their roster. In that regard, it's simpler to envision third baseman Manny Machado fitting in San Diego, given that he plays a glaring area of need. But if the Padres were to shock the baseball world and land Harper, what comes next? And how do they sort out the rest of their roster puzzle? Here are a few steps:
Trade an outfielder, probably two
Even without Harper, the Padres are looking to deal from their glut of corner options. Already, Franmil Reyes, Hunter Renfroe and Wil Myers are competing for, at most, two places in the starting lineup. All three are righty hitters with similar offensive profiles, so there isn't much space for a platoon either.
Throw Harper into the mix, and things get even more confusing. That's not a reason to avoid signing Harper, who's an instant upgrade over any of the in-house options, just an acknowledgement that signing Harper would require a bit of extra maneuvering.
Harper will cost a pretty penny, so chances are the Padres would look to deal Myers, who still has four years and about $64 million remaining on his contract. They might keep Renfroe and Reyes and allow them both to compete for time. But in reality, they have enough depth with Franchy Cordero and Travis Jankowski on the bench (and probably sharing time with Manuel Margot in center field). General manager A.J. Preller might decide it's best to package either Renfroe or Reyes -- both talented, controllable young outfielders -- in a deal for a pitcher or a third baseman.
Find a third baseman
The Padres have several options here, but with Harper on board, Machado would no longer be one of them. That means the biggest hole on offense still needs to be filled. As things stand, Ty France is the projected Opening Day starter.
The surplus of outfielders could prove valuable in a trade for a third baseman. Already this offseason, San Diego has been linked to Nick Senzel and Miguel Andújar, though those talks have cooled recently.
Another option is free-agent Mike Moustakas, who, like Harper, is a client of agent Scott Boras. If the Padres could ink Moustakas to a two-year deal, he'd solve their short-term third-base issue. In the meantime they could keep a sharp eye on the development of infield prospects Hudson Potts, Gabriel Arias and Xavier Edwards. If any of those three pan out, the Padres would have a left-side-of-the-infield partner for Fernando Tatis Jr.
And if neither Moustakas nor a trade comes to fruition, expect the Padres to sign a utility option who can play third base. Yangervis Solarte and Adeiny Hechavarria, among others, remain available.
Settle the rotation
You don't sign Harper without intending to make a postseason push. As things stand, the Padres' rotation is nowhere close to playoff-caliber.
A number of free-agent starting pitchers remain available, including Gio Gonzalez, who was linked with the Padres last week. The Friars could also deal from their deep farm system for a rotation piece, and they've already been linked with Toronto's Marcus Stroman this offseason.
But the most important rotation addition might not come preseason (or even in-season). The Friars need a front-line starting pitcher to headline a prominent group of young arms, and Preller has been scouring the trade market to find one for nearly a year. He's got plenty of pieces to deal from.
The gulf between the Padres and Dodgers is a wide one (25 1/2 games last season, to be exact). Even if San Diego were to sign Harper, it's hard to envision that gap closing in one season.
The whole point of a Harper deal is the long-term effects. The Friars have a loaded farm system and tons of pitching talent on the way. On offense, it's fair to expect prospects Tatis, Luis Urías and Francisco Mejía to experience some growing pains in the big leagues this season. But their futures are bright as well.
No question, Harper's impact would be immediate. He's Bryce Harper, one of the best hitters in the world. But his presence in the middle of the San Diego lineup would clearly be felt in a much bigger way over the long haul.