NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Padres were in dire need of starting pitching before they decided not to tender a contract to Tyson Ross.
Now? Well, their plight is the same. But they could be -- to borrow a phrase used by general manager A.J. Preller -- casting an even wider net, given that at least three rotation spots are up for grabs.
Still, Preller noted "there is mutual interest" in Ross returning to San Diego for the 2017 season. Ross, who is recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, is a free agent and can listen to offers from all 30 clubs.
"Both sides know each other well," Preller said Monday at the Winter Meetings. "He knows the advantages of pitching in San Diego, in terms of the people that are around him. He knows he has a lot of people that believe in him in the coaching staff, front office, etc. We just reiterated to him, when we had the non-tender decision, that we would like to bring him back -- just not through the arbitration process, with the price point that's already been established."
Of course, it's a thin pitching market this offseason, making Preller's job a bit more difficult.
"There are some guys we've talked about on the free-agent market," Preller said. "But you're going to have to find value deals."
One such deal could be Clayton Richard, a free agent who has expressed interest in returning to San Diego. In 11 outings for the Padres last season, Richard posted a 2.52 ERA. The two sides have begun talks and will continue them this week at the Winter Meetings.
MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday at 6 a.m. PT.
Another pair of intriguing rotation options are prospects Dinelson Lamet and Walker Lockett -- each of whom jumped from Class A to Triple-A in 2016. Preller said they'll both get the chance to compete for a rotation spot during Spring Training. Lamet he could also earn a spot in the bullpen, where the Padres feel his fastball/slider mix would play extremely well.
In any case, the Padres are still searching for multiple starters on the free-agent market, with Colin Rea and Robbie Erlin out with Tommy John surgery.
As for the controversial decision to non-tender Ross, Preller said the club wasn't prepared to take Ross to arbitration. In his final year before free agency, Ross would've netted upwards of $10 million.
"A market didn't develop for [a trade]," Preller said. "So I think we had a decision to make about going through the tender process ... vs. non-tender, and then seeing where that leads us. Obviously we decided to non-tender and then see where it goes."
AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.