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Padres enter Hot Stove with infield questions

Who will start at SS in '18? How does Solarte fit into 2B/3B mix?
October 30, 2017

SAN DIEGO -- The core of a young Padres roster will return largely intact in 2018.But there are certainly a few question marks entering the offseason. The club answered one of those this week, hiring Matt Stairs as hitting coach.Now, they have needs to address within their rotation, bullpen and

SAN DIEGO -- The core of a young Padres roster will return largely intact in 2018.
But there are certainly a few question marks entering the offseason. The club answered one of those this week, hiring Matt Stairs as hitting coach.
Now, they have needs to address within their rotation, bullpen and at shortstop. With that in mind, here's a look at the three most pressing questions facing the Padres this offseason.
Free agents: RHP Jhoulys Chacin, SS Erick Aybar, RHP Craig Stammen, LHP Christian Friedrich, RHP Jarred Cosart
Arbitration-eligible: RHP Carter Capps, C Hector Sanchez, LHP Brad Hand, LHP Robbie Erlin, RHP Kirby Yates, OF Matthew Szczur
Who plays shortstop?
This question has been atop the Padres' offseason agenda for the better part of the past decade. Only this time, Fernando Tatis Jr. gives San Diego some serious optimism for the future. Tatis, the club's No. 4 prospect, shot through the Padres' system this year and could open next season at Double-A San Antonio.

That said, Tatis won't make an impact in San Diego until 2019 at the earliest. The Padres need someone to fill that void in '18. (No, it won't be Allen Cordoba, a Rule 5 pick last season, who still has plenty of Minor League development ahead.)
It's likely they'll choose to look for a veteran free agent, as they have with Clint Barmes, Alexei Ramirez and Aybar over the past three seasons. Aybar, himself, could return. Alcides Escobar is another option.
Is Brad Hand still a Padre in 2018?
Sound familiar? We spent most of July wondering whether Hand was going anywhere before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Padres held onto him then, and now that the offseason has arrived, the same questions have returned.

It seems as though general manager A.J. Preller is willing to move Hand for the right price. But the All-Star won't come cheap. Hand is coming off the best season of his career, and he's under team control for two more years. If Preller isn't willing to move Hand, it's conceivable that the Padres would begin to work toward an extension, though there's no evidence that has been discussed.
What do the Padres do with their 2B/3B logjam?
Let's preface this question by saying: Yangervis Solarte is not the answer at shortstop. He filled in serviceably toward the end of the 2017 season. But he's certainly not a long-term solution. He'll be at second and/or third base in '18.
In fact, Solarte is one of three Padres who will fight for two starting spots. Cory Spangenberg (at third base) and Carlos Asuaje (at second base) impressed during the 2017 season. Meanwhile, third baseman Christian Villanueva will enter camp with a chance to compete for a roster spot, and second baseman Luis Urias, the Padres' No. 3 prospect, isn't far from a big league debut.
The cluster at second and third makes a trade seem likely. Solarte -- who owns a team-friendly contract and is the most proven hitter of the bunch -- is probably the favorite to be dealt. But the Padres will almost certainly field calls on Spangenberg and Asuaje this winter as well.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.