PEORIA, Ariz. -- During their offseason courtship of free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer, the Padres may have reached a turning point as a franchise.
Following a disappointing 2015 campaign, general manager A.J. Preller orchestrated a teardown of his roster, shedding aging veterans and burdensome contracts while stocking the Padres' farm with talent. The process played out over a two-year stretch in which San Diego held more Draft picks and spent more on international amateurs than any team in baseball.
That part of the process is over. The Padres are still squarely in the talent-acquisition game. But the focus has turned within -- to developing those youngsters and building a Major League culture.
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"It really started three years ago, in terms of building a foundation, building a core and building a farm system," said Preller. "The next stage for us, from a planning standpoint, was being able to layer in the right piece, the right players over the course of the next few years to add to that core."
Hosmer was the first piece to be layered into the master plan. He arrived in Peoria last month, having signed an eight-year deal worth $144 million on Feb. 19, making him the offseason's most expensive free agent.
It's a sign the Padres believe they're headed toward contention in the near future, even if it doesn't come in 2018.
"If you add a player like that, you're obviously accelerating the process," said William Myers, who will shift from first base to the outfield, clearing room for Hosmer. "Adding a player like that -- not only for the fans, but for the players here -- [shows] how serious we are of going for it."
What's the goal?
The Padres aren't eyeing 2018 as the year they begin to make noise in the National League West. They don't think they're far off, though. Ideally, they will use the upcoming season as a chance to make a statement for the future.
How can they do that? By developing their young talent into big league value. Center fielder Manuel Margot and catcher Austin Hedges could be in the early stages of becoming franchise players. The farm system is loaded. San Diego might not contend in 2018, but its young players are certainly capable of turning heads.
What's the plan?
For the most part, the core is already in place on offense. Hosmer, Hedges, Margot and Myers will anchor the Padres' lineup for the next half decade. Top prospectsLuis Urias and Fernando Tatis Jr. could join them this season as the club's middle infield of the future. Carlos Asuaje and Hunter Renfroe are under team control as well.
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It's an intriguing mix, and San Diego is banking on a few of those pieces developing into stars. It's a bit less clear on the mound, where the farm system is loaded with high-upside arms, but the big league rotation has serious question marks -- including an elbow injury to No. 2 starter Dinelson Lamet. In the long run, the Padres have five spots left to fill in their so-called "rotation of the future."
What could go wrong?
Myers is coming off a down year. Hosmer is coming off a career year. In the worst-case scenario, Hosmer struggles to replicate his 2017 season, and Myers repeats his. Both would still be useful pieces going forward. But that's an awful lot of money tied into two non-premium positions.
The Padres expect to take a step forward offensively, after consecutive years in which they finished last in the Majors in on-base percentage. But there are still plenty of question marks within that offense. A repeat of the past two seasons would be nothing short of disappointing.
On the pitching side, things have already taken an unfortunate turn due to Lamet's right elbow strain. He's viewed as a critical cog in the club's future rotation, and he's hopeful for a return in May. But elbow injuries often aren't so simple.
Who might surprise
Preller's philosophy has always been to promote his prospects according to merit, disregarding their age. San Diego has accelerated that process for a handful of young players -- Tatis, Urias and right-hander Cal Quantrill included. It's possible all three will arrive in the Majors this season.
But all three are destined for the Minors during the season's first half. Lefty prospect Joey Lucchesi and outfield prospect Franchy Cordero should arrive sooner. They were arguably the Padres two most impressive performers this spring, and they're expected to contribute in the very near future.