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Inbox: Is Machado better fit for SD than Harper?

Beat reporter AJ Cassavell fields offseason questions from fans
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- Whew. It's certainly been a busy few days since the most recent Padres Inbox was released a week ago.

In that time, it's become clear that the Padres are looking into the offseason's two biggest free agents. (Heck, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper might be two of the biggest free agents ever.) Their interest in Machado is real. And they met with Harper in Las Vegas on Thursday night.

SAN DIEGO -- Whew. It's certainly been a busy few days since the most recent Padres Inbox was released a week ago.

In that time, it's become clear that the Padres are looking into the offseason's two biggest free agents. (Heck, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper might be two of the biggest free agents ever.) Their interest in Machado is real. And they met with Harper in Las Vegas on Thursday night.

San Diego is also in talks with the Marlins for J.T. Realmuto, the trade market's biggest available name. Lots to cover here. Let's jump right into your questions.

Why sign Harper when we already have an outfield logjam? Isn't it better to sign Machado, because we don't have a third baseman?
-- Kevin, San Diego

This isn't New York. The Padres don't have Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton taking up playing time in the outfield corners. They have Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Franmil Reyes and Franchy Cordero. Those are good young players with potential. But certainly not enough to preclude the signing of a franchise-altering talent.

Yes, technically Machado is a better fit. Third base is the biggest long-term hole in San Diego's offense, and if Machado fills it, that's a huge statement. But the Padres also aren't merely one piece away from contention. They're still waiting on the arrival of some top prospects and the development of some young hitters.

:: Submit a question to the Padres Inbox ::

If the Padres end up signing Machado, their long-term plans are probably a bit more straightforward than if they signed Harper. But if they were to sign Harper, they'd have a glut of young outfield pieces to trade from, along with an incredibly deep farm system. Executive vice president and GM A.J. Preller has other ways to acquire a third baseman.

If San Diego's decision-makers can get Harper or Machado within their price range, they'd happily take either, and figure things out from there.

Is there a universe where the Padres sign both Harper and Machado?
-- @Pumpkinking1224

It's a big universe. But, no.

What's the plan after they sign Harper? What's the plan after they sign Machado? Separate questions, since it would realistically be one or the other.
-- Andy B.

As mentioned above, it's pretty straightforward if the Padres sign Machado. He'll play third, rounding out an infield with Eric Hosmer at first and top prospects Fernando Tatis and Luis Urias up the middle. San Diego is pretty deep at catcher and in the outfield, though the club will keep an eye out for another impact bat. (Realmuto, anyone?) In the meantime, Preller will turn his focus toward improving the rotation.

If the Padres sign Harper, things get trickier. He'd be playing every day, so they would probably need to commit to one player from among Myers, Renfroe and Reyes, while looking to trade the other two. Cordero and Manuel Margot could platoon in center.

Video: Rosenthal discusses Harper's meeting with Padres

Perhaps San Diego could package one or two of those outfielders in a deal to acquire a third baseman. That'd be Preller's first order of business. Maybe the Padres would use another to help land a starting pitcher. Of course, in any trade proposal, they could easily complement their big league pieces with prospects from the sport's deepest farm system.

With Austin Hedges and Francisco Mejia in our system currently, why is there such strong interest in Realmuto? Have the Padres given up on Hedges?
-- Kevin, San Diego

I have a hard time seeing "interest in Realmuto" as a knock on Hedges or Mejia. The Padres still regard their two young catchers very highly. Hedges is an elite defender and has begun to establish himself a bit at the plate. Mejia's potential is sky high, even if there are questions about his defense and plate discipline.

But Realmuto is the best catcher in the sport right now, and he's 27. If you can get the best guy, you get the best guy. San Diego has been tight-lipped regarding its negotiations with Miami, but that's clearly the reasoning.

Of course, Realmuto only has two years remaining on his contract. The Padres wouldn't trade for him if they didn't think an extension was possible. In order to land Realmuto, they'd have to give up at least one of those young catchers (probably Mejia). Then, if the extension comes to fruition, San Diego would have a very appealing trade piece (probably Hedges).

Do you think Logan Allen breaks camp with the Major League team?
-- Josh, Escondido, Calif.

The further we get into the offseason without a meaningful rotation addition, the likelier it gets.

Allen, the team's No. 8 prospect, is still on the outside looking in. He's been excellent at every level of the Minor Leagues. But Allen has only made five starts at Triple-A (albeit with a 1.63 ERA).

It seems like Allen is going to get every chance to win a spot this spring. The Padres fast-tracked Joey Lucchesi last year. They might do the same with Allen, the 21-year-old left-hander who arrived three offseasons ago in the Craig Kimbrel deal.

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

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