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As SP market moves, here are Padres' options

@AJCassavell
December 4, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- The market for starting pitchers began moving in a big way on Wednesday, with Zack Wheeler (Phillies) and Cole Hamels (Braves) agreeing to deals with new teams. At the start of the offseason, both Wheeler and Hamels seemed like logical fits with the Padres. Wheeler could've been

SAN DIEGO -- The market for starting pitchers began moving in a big way on Wednesday, with Zack Wheeler (Phillies) and Cole Hamels (Braves) agreeing to deals with new teams.

At the start of the offseason, both Wheeler and Hamels seemed like logical fits with the Padres. Wheeler could've been a discount front-of-the-rotation option, at least when compared with Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole. And Hamels could have been the veteran San Diego native returning home to help shore up a young rotation.

And yet, the Padres don't appear to be among the handful of teams who offered Wheeler a contract, and there are no indications they were interested in Hamels. (Certainly not at the rate the Braves signed him for -- one year, $18 million.)

Internally, the Padres seem a bit more optimistic about their in-house options than the rest of the baseball world. It's the biggest reason they've remained quiet. Here's a quick refresher on where their rotation stands:

Locks: Chris Paddack, Garrett Richards
Probably in: Zach Davies, Dinelson Lamet
On the bubble: Joey Lucchesi, Cal Quantrill
Prospects on the rise: MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patiño

Sources have indicated that there’s been no recent movement to shore up the rotation, and nothing is imminent in the team’s search for a starter. But the free-agent market moves quickly, and the Padres' pursuit of rotation help will be a central theme at next week's Winter Meetings.

With that in mind, here's a look at the four different paths that general manager A.J. Preller might take.

Sign one of the big names
Chances:
Unlikely

Despite the recent flurry of pitching moves, the market for Cole and Strasburg is in limbo. Their landing spots are unclear, and the list of suitors is long -- albeit with a few obvious favorites. Right now, it seems unlikely that San Diego would enter a bidding war for either of their services. Then again, at this stage last season, the Padres hadn't even begun discussing the possibility of signing Manny Machado.

Sign a mid-tier free agent
Chances:
Possible, but not probable

Even with Wheeler and Hamels off the board, there are a number of free-agent starters who could impact the Padres' rotation. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Madison Bumgarner top that list. Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran might be lower-cost options, though they bring more question marks. The Padres are determined not to overpay for starting pitching this winter, though. And with 29 other teams who could use rotation help, that might be what it takes to land one of these options.

Find a fringe starter, bolster the bullpen
Chances:
Increasingly likely

Last week's addition of Davies solidified the Padres' rotation slightly. But it's not the big-name addition most fans had hoped for. Right now, that big-name addition seems less likely than it did two months ago. It's possible Preller is slow-playing the market. But internally, the Padres feel the price on free-agent starters might be a bit high.

A week ago, they added Drew Pomeranz and it's possible they continue to fortify their already-strong bullpen to cover those innings. (In that case, they wouldn't stand pat entirely, but they would likely add a fringe rotation option to a Minors deal with a big league Spring Training invite.)

Find a trade partner
Chances:
A distinct possibility

Preller has worked the starting pitching market for the past two offseasons, and he still hasn't lined up a deal for a starting pitcher. (Let's exclude Davies, because Luis Urías and Trent Grisham were the key pieces in that trade with the Brewers.) So why might things be different this time?

Well, Preller has indicated he's more willing than in the past to deal from his prospect pool. San Diego has a handful of high-upside arms (behind Patiño and Gore, who both appear untouchable). Perhaps Preller dips into that prospect talent to find a ready-made rotation option. There's only one problem: the trade market for starters is extremely hard to gauge. Who's available in a deal? Good question.

Avila, Diaz set to return

On Tuesday night, the Padres announced that they have signed right-handers Miguel Diaz and Pedro Avila to Minor League deals. The signings came one day after both Avila and Diaz were not tendered contracts at Monday's deadline.

The Padres still love the upside of both young arms. But each has dealt with injury issues in the past year that jeopardized their 40-man roster spots. Avila underwent Tommy John surgery in August, and Diaz struggled with knee issues.

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