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5 things left on the Padres' to-do list

@AJCassavell
January 12, 2021

SAN DIEGO -- With 2 1/2 months until Opening Day, the 2020-21 offseason has already been one of the busiest in Padres history. No, general manager A.J. Preller almost certainly won’t equal his post-Christmas trade spree. But Preller and the Padres have business to do before the season begins. •

SAN DIEGO -- With 2 1/2 months until Opening Day, the 2020-21 offseason has already been one of the busiest in Padres history.

No, general manager A.J. Preller almost certainly won’t equal his post-Christmas trade spree. But Preller and the Padres have business to do before the season begins.

Hot Stove Tracker

Here’s a look at five prominent items remaining on San Diego’s agenda this winter:

1) Engage further with Tatis
The Padres have made it clear they envision Fernando Tatis Jr. as the centerpiece and long-term face of the franchise. Tatis, meanwhile, has spoken lovingly of San Diego and has expressed a desire to stay.

That bodes well for the chances of a contract extension between the Padres and their 22-year-old superstar. But according to sources, there's nothing imminent on the extension front.

That isn’t meant to throw water on the fire after extension rumors dominated the Twittersphere over the weekend. A Tatis extension remains atop the Padres’ list of priorities. But those talks aren’t quite as far along as some have suggested.

Tatis is four seasons from free agency, and there’s plenty of time to figure out the particulars of an extension. But this offseason offers a critical starting point in those negotiations. (Surely, the Tatis camp is pleased with the Padres’ investment this winter already.)

Perhaps the two sides cover significant ground and find an agreement before the 2021 season. Perhaps the groundwork is laid this winter, and a deal crystallizes next offseason instead.

In any case, it’s an early juncture for those negotiations -- perhaps heightened even more by the national attention recently thrust on to the story.

2) Sign a reliever or two
The Padres lost two closers to free agency this offseason -- right-handers Kirby Yates and Trevor Rosenthal. That doesn't necessarily mean they're looking for a closer, however.

Team officials believe they already have a pair of capable closers on board in Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagán. Both were setup men last season, but they have filled in as closers in the past.

That being said, the Padres could still use relief help to fill out the back end of their bullpen. Yates remains squarely on their radar. Rosenthal, too -- though in the wake of Liam Hendriks' reported $54 million deal, it's possible Rosenthal ends up out of San Diego's price range. (He's arguably the top remaining reliever available.)

The Padres' bullpen is already solid, but it's highly unlikely they enter camp without making an addition or two.

3) Find another starter
Another starting pitcher? Yep, another starter.

Sure, the Padres have already added Yu Darvish and Blake Snell this winter. But they lost Mike Clevinger for the year due to Tommy John surgery, and they dealt Zach Davies to Chicago in the Darvish deal. No doubt, the quality of the rotation is up from last season. But the quantity -- the number of arms locked into big league rotation spots -- remains the same.

The Padres entered the offseason looking for rotation depth. They're still looking. The next addition won't be at the level of Darvish or Snell. But there's reason for Preller to find help at the back end of the rotation.

Currently, the No. 5 spot is a competition among some highly touted youngsters -- top prospect MacKenzie Gore, Ryan Weathers (No. 5 prospect) and Adrian Morejon -- and Joey Lucchesi. All four are left-handed, and it's entirely possible a bona fide big league starter emerges from that group this year. But each has question marks -- plus, some depth wouldn't hurt, given the uncertainty surrounding the elbow of right-hander Dinelson Lamet.

4) Thorough assessment of offensive depth
The importance of roster depth in 2021 will be much greater than it was in '20, and Preller seems keenly aware of that.

"It's going from 60 games to [162] games," Preller said. "We've talked about that as a group a lot here. Last year was truly a sprint. This year is getting back to a marathon. ... We're going to keep our players fresh."

That was part of the impetus behind the team's decision to sign infielder Ha-Seong Kim to a four-year deal, despite already possessing one of the sport's best infields. But do the Padres need more?

Thus far, they've added Kim, outfielder Brian O'Grady and catcher Victor Caratini to a bench that lost Jurickson Profar, Greg Garcia, Mitch Moreland and Jason Castro.

It's possible the Padres look internally for bench depth with Luis Campusano (No. 3 prospect), Jorge Mateo and Jorge Oña (No. 13 prospect) as options. But they should be asking themselves whether that's enough to sustain the grind of a 162-game slate -- or whether they'd be better served looking into a reunion with a versatile piece like Profar (or signing someone else of that caliber). According to sources, a Profar reunion remains on the table.

5) Agree with arb eligibles
Since Preller became general manager in 2014, the Padres have not gone to salary arbitration with any players -- a somewhat remarkable streak. But the 2020-21 offseason might present the staunchest challenge yet.

The Padres have five players who have yet to reach terms on a 2021 salary -- Lamet, Pagán, Caratini, Tommy Pham and Dan Altavilla. If those players don't agree on a salary before Friday's deadline, they instead submit their salary proposal for '21. The Padres do the same, and a hearing is scheduled. An independent arbitrator would choose between the two proposals (though the two sides could still settle before the hearing).

After the pandemic-shortened season, there are challenges to an arbitration process that typically relies on a full slate of games. Two cases to watch: Pham and Lamet. Pham struggled immensely in a shortened slate. Lamet was utterly dominant, though he missed the postseason due to an elbow injury. How, exactly, would those seasons be viewed through the lens of arbitration?

Considering Preller's history, the likeliest outcome is that the Padres agree with their remaining players. But it's a storyline worth watching over the next few days -- and perhaps the next month.

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