SAN DIEGO -- Several times this offseason, Padres general manager A.J. Preller has reiterated that there's no limit when it comes to the number of starting pitchers he'd like to add.
As it stands, the Padres have about 10 pitchers who figure to compete for a rotation spot in camp. That number reached double figures with recent news that Tyson Ross and Christopher Young would be returning to the club on Minor League deals.
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That doesn't mean, however, that Preller has been adding for the sake of adding. The price wasn't right for a reunion with right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, so Preller passed. The free-agent market was thin, so he acquired Bryan Mitchell from the Yankees, taking on Chase Headley's contract in the process.
"Our focus as a group has still been, where we are as a team, giving opportunities to our own guys internally, giving opportunities to [Luis] Perdomo, [Dinelson] Lamet, Bryan Mitchell and then challenging our scouts to supplement that with some guys that we feel are undervalued," Preller said. "I never want to rule anything out, but I think that's more where our focus is."
There's another reason behind the Padres' hesitancy to commit big bucks to a starting pitcher on a multiyear deal. Their farm system could soon produce Major League level results on the mound.
Four of the club's top prospects as ranked by MLB Pipeline pitched for Double-A San Antonio last season -- No. 2 Cal Quantrill, No. 8 Eric Lauer, No. 9 Joey Lucchesi and No. 14 Jacob Nix. It's possible all four receive invites to Major League Spring Training (though none are likely to make the Opening Day roster).
It would mark the first chance for those four prospects to showcase their talents against big league hitters. Success this spring could precipitate a midseason callup for any of the four.
And their pending arrival is a big part of the reason the Padres are hesitant to commit beyond 2018 with this offseason's crop of free-agent starters. Clayton Richard is already under contract through 2019. Perdomo, Lamet and Mitchell all have at least four years of team control remaining. Colin Rea, Robbie Erlin and Matt Strahm -- all coming back from injury -- are locked down as well.
Sure, many of their starting-pitching options are unproven, but the Padres appear open to giving those unproven starters a chance. That could ring especially true this summer when a rotation slot becomes available for, say, Quantrill or Lucchesi.
That possibility has also rekindled talks within the organization about the merits of a six-man rotation. For the most part, the Padres have used a six-man schedule at the Minor League levels. With a handful of highly touted prospects set to arrive, they might find it prudent to keep those arms well-rested when they arrive in San Diego. There's no reason to believe it's likely in 2018, but the club is at least discussing the possibility internally.
"If there's not a disparity between your No. 1 and [No.] 6 at the level there is with most teams, there's reason to do it because the rest is probably really good for those guys," said Padres manager Andy Green. "... As time unfolds, I think we'll explore that possibility."
In any case, the Padres learned the hard way about the lack of organizational pitching depth in 2017. Before the season begins, they're open to adding -- but only if the commitment doesn't hinder their plans for the future.
"From a starting-pitching standpoint, there's probably never enough," Preller said. "... We're going to look to add to that, definitely. My guess is we come out with a few more options, whether it ends up being 10 legit starting-pitching options, I don't know. But you need a lot going into camp."