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Friars' hot corner still up for grabs

San Diego actively searching trade market, free agency for solution
January 30, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres' 2019 third baseman remains a mystery -- and we're already a month into 2019.With less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, general manager A.J. Preller remains actively in search of a starter at third base. The Padres have been linked

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres' 2019 third baseman remains a mystery -- and we're already a month into 2019.
With less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, general manager A.J. Preller remains actively in search of a starter at third base. The Padres have been linked with some of the sport's biggest names through trade and free agency. They've also indicated they'd be willing to stand pat if nothing comes to fruition.
At this point, it's anyone's guess as to who opens the season at the hot corner in San Diego. But San Diego's options can be clearly broken down into five tiers:
1. Manny Machado
The upside: Machado is a game-changer. He's an elite defensive third baseman with an excellent bat, and he would've led the Padres in wins above replacement in every full season he's played in the Major Leagues. Plus, he's only 26 years old, so Machado could easily fit into the long-term strategy of the club. Right now, third base is the biggest hole in the team's future lineup plans, and San Diego would make a major statement by signing one of the game's best third basemen to fill it. Machado might not make the Padres instant contenders, but he'd certainly put them on the right path.

The cost: Hard to say. It's going to take nine figures, and it's going to take a contract that would break Eric Hosmer's franchise record. But the interest level in Machado is lower than many figured it would have been at the start of the offseason. Still, San Diego would need to commit at least $200 million -- and probably more -- to Machado for most of the next decade.
The chances: The Padres' interest in Machado is very real. But Machado is the type of player who could prompt a significant bidding war, and that's something the San Diego brass has indicated they'd like to avoid. It still seems unlikely the Friars land Machado, though far more likely than it did at the beginning of the offseason.
2. Mike Moustakas or Marwin Gonzalez
The upside: At various points during the offseason, the Padres have been linked with both. If they can't sign Machado, Moustakas and Gonzalez represent the next tier. Either could anchor third base over the next couple seasons, while infield prospects like Hudson Potts, Gabriel Arias and Xavier Edwards develop. As those youngsters inch closer to the big leagues, San Diego will have some time to reassess its long-term need at third.

The cost: They're obviously different players at different points in their careers. But it seems unlikely that either player will get much more than $10 million per year. Gonzalez is a year younger, and his versatility makes him more valuable. (Thus, he's perhaps a better fit for a longer deal in San Diego.) But he's still in the three-to-four year range. Moustakas, meanwhile, could warrant a two-year contract, but seemingly no more than that.
The chances: Few teams need a third baseman as urgently as the Padres, but Machado might end up out of their price range. That makes a deal with Gonzalez or Moustakas at least somewhat likely.

3. Trade candidates
The upside: Looking for a long-term third-base solution without spending a ton of money? There's nowhere better to find one than on the trade market. Already this offseason, the Padres have been linked with the Yankees' Miguel Andújar and the Reds' Nick Senzel. They've been rumored to be involved in three-way trade discussions with the Indians as well, in order to land one of them. Clearly, either player would be a boon to an organization looking for a young third baseman. But neither of those deals is currently on the front burner.

The cost: Probably not much -- in terms of dollars, that is. But to acquire one of the game's best young third basemen, San Diego would have to part with some serious prospect capital. With the deepest farm system in baseball, the Padres clearly got the pieces. But Preller values those pieces pretty highly. It remains to be seen which prospects he'd be willing to part with.
The chances: Down the road, it's still possible the Padres use a trade to land their third baseman of the future. But it's looking less and less likely that trade happens this offseason.
4. Stopgaps
The upside: A one-year utility third baseman like Yangervis Solarte or Adeiny Hechavarria would come cheap. It's not the ideal solution, given that it isn't solving San Diego's long-term hole. But next year's free-agent class is pretty strong at the hot corner. If, ultimately, the Padres push their third-base question off by one year, they'd be best served to add to their current mix. Plus, it'd be useful if that addition could play multiple spots.
The cost: It'd be a one-year commitment, almost certainly at a minimal cost.

The chances: All offseason, this route seemed like the most realistic possibility. Now, with the bigger names still available, it seems less likely than it once did. But it's still very possible.
5. In-house options
The upside: There's not a whole lot of upside with the current bunch in San Diego. Ty France, the projected starter, could be a useful right-handed bat. But he's yet to play a big league game, and he's not a Top 30 prospect. Esteban Quiroz and Jason Vosler, meanwhile, aren't on the 40-man roster, and Ian Kinsler has played all of two innings at third in his career. The Padres insist there's potential in that group (and they aren't wrong). But there's no guarantee that anyone currently headed to big league camp will develop into a Major League-caliber third baseman.
The cost: San Diego wouldn't be spending anything more than what it has already committed to the current group (though the Padres would almost certainly have to promote Quiroz and pay him the league minimum).
The chances: Members of the Padres' front office have indicated it's possible they stand pat. It still seems unlikely.

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