Padres have 'flexibility' to add top-line pitching

November 13th, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Two winters ago, the Padres signed the top free-agent first baseman in the class to a record-setting contract. Last offseason, they signed the top free-agent third baseman in the class to a record-setting contract.

This winter, the Padres need a front-line starting pitcher. and are the top free agents available. Might things play out the same way they did with and over the past two years?

Early indications say probably not. Team sources have indicated the club is willing to spend this offseason. But the Padres’ competition for Hosmer and Machado was limited to only a few teams that needed upgrades at those positions. This year, they're competing with basically all of the Majors in search of a rotation upgrade.

In that sense, the Padres seem open to spending but determined not to overpay. And ultimately, they believe, overpaying might be what it takes to land either Strasburg or Cole.

At the very least, however, the Padres seem to have expressed interest.

"There have already been some check-ins," Padres GM A.J. Preller said Tuesday from the General Managers Meetings in Scottsdale. "We'll see. There's obviously going to be a lot of competition for those guys at the top of the free-agent pitching class."

In that regard, it seems likelier to expect a signing in the second tier of free-agent starting pitchers -- a group that includes and . It's worth noting that both Wheeler and Odorizzi received qualifying offers, as did . Among the free-agent starters not tied to qualifying offers are , and .

A quick refresher: If a player turns down a qualifying offer from his former club, the team that signs him would forfeit a Draft pick. Preller notoriously loves his Draft picks.

Still, there's a reason to believe the Padres have the upper hand in their pursuit of a pitcher tied to a qualifying offer: The opportunity cost is lower. Most of the market's biggest players would forfeit a second-rounder. (Those who exceeded the luxury tax threshold would forfeit a second and a fifth.)

But the Padres, as recipients of revenue sharing, would only lose their third selection -- No. 73 overall.

"The fact that it's a third-rounder is better than a second-rounder," Preller said. "That always helps. But we'll factor everything in as we look at different players. The fact that there are guys that have been qualified, that's not preventing our conversations."

Internally, the Padres probably like their in-house pitching options more than the rest of the baseball world. They feel as though is a budding ace, and top prospects and could make an impact next season. and have returned from Tommy John surgery, and they’re complemented by a group of fringe options like , and .

But that group also leaves the Padres in need of a true front-line arm and perhaps a depth option while Gore and Patiño establish themselves. Right now, the Padres seem intent on addressing both of those needs.

And that's perhaps the biggest takeaway from the early stages of the offseason in San Diego: The Padres are willing to increase their payroll. Preller wants to contend in 2020, and he knows it might take something of an overhaul. The Padres seem willing to spend to address their biggest needs.

"There's some flexibility, payroll- and budget-wise," Preller said. "We've been building up to the point of continuing to increase our payroll. Part of it is that we have some good younger players. So we can consider some guys from a flexibility standpoint.

"We'll be open. The next few weeks, the next month is about 'What path is the best one for us?'"

Coaching updates

• The Padres seem hopeful to have their coaching staff finalized by later this week. As things stand, they’re still mulling their options at hitting coach and bullpen coach. Johnny Washington and Doug Bochtler, who filled those two roles last season, are candidates to be retained, a source said.

• We know Bobby Dickerson will be named bench coach, Larry Rothschild will be named pitching coach and Glenn Hoffman will remain as the team’s third-base coach. But little else is certain. Rod Barajas (last year’s bench coach and interim manager), Skip Schumaker (first-base coach) and Damion Easley (infield coach) are expected to be retained, but their roles are not yet known.

• Count Yankees general manager Brian Cashman among those who feel Rothschild will fit nicely in San Diego.

“He’s one of the premier experts on pitching in this game, and he’s got a lot of experience to fall back on,” Cashman said. “He made our pitchers good for a long time. It wasn’t an easy decision to part ways. … [He brings] knowledge, leadership, an eye for talent and an ability to communicate and bond.”