Padres' 2018 rotation remains an unknown

Padres' 2018 rotation remains an unknown

LOS ANGELES -- The Padres have already embarked on their final trip through the 2017 rotation. Travis Wood made his last start Monday at Dodger Stadium. Dinelson Lamet's came on Tuesday.

When the 2018 season begins, there's a chance the rotation could look very similar to the version that finished the '17 campaign. There's also a chance it looks very different.

A week ago, Clayton Richard signed a two-year contract extension, and general manager A.J. Preller noted that Richard has a secure spot in the Padres' starting five next spring. After that, it's anyone's guess.

"It's going to be a battle," said Padres skipper Andy Green. "Dinelson Lamet has pushed himself to the front of the line, and Luis Perdomo's not far behind him there. But those guys are going to come in and get challenged by another group of guys and possibly a free-agent signing or two and whoever else you bring in."

Lamet and Perdomo -- both entering their age-25 seasons -- are clearly an integral part of the Padres' future. It makes sense they'd be favorites. But, in Green's eyes, they aren't locks. Wood, meanwhile, figures to enter camp squarely on the rotation bubble.

After those three, the Padres have a host of pitchers who were once thought of highly, before they dealt with with injuries. Robbie Erlin (Tommy John surgery), Colin Rea (Tommy John surgery) Jarred Cosart (arthroscopic elbow surgery), Matt Strahm (left knee surgery) and Christian Friedrich (arthroscopic elbow surgery) all missed the majority of 2017.

In essence, the Padres are hopeful that an entire rotation's worth of pitchers will return to the fold next spring.

Given the question marks surrounding those five pitchers, however, the Padres need to add candidates in free agency as well. In that regard, a Jhoulys Chacin return makes sense.

"I'm really happy with how San Diego has treated me so well," said Chacin, who signed a one-year deal in the offseason and has posted a 3.98 ERA in 31 starts. "It's been a fun place for me. ... I've given everything that I have for the team this year to help win games. I would be happy if I come back here."

Even if Chacin returns, the Padres will still be searching for multiple starting options. But it's unclear whether they'd be willing to commit multiple years to a free-agent arm, given the glut of pitching talent at Double-A.

Five of the organization's top 15 prospects pitched for San Antonio in 2017. Youngsters like Cal Quantrill and Joey Lucchesi could debut for the Padres by the end of next season.

Before they arrive, however, the Padres have questions to answer next spring. The internal options are volatile, and the external options -- on a thin pitching market -- are scarce.

"There's going to be opportunity again in our rotation to lay claim to a spot," Green said. "... I don't know where the rest of the guys will come from. But there's going to be a host of guys that will be fighting for those jobs. I would put Lamet and Perdomo kind of at the front of the list. But there are going to be challengers."

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.