Inbox: Who will join Richard in '18 rotation?

Beat reporter AJ Cassavell answers questions from Padres fans

Inbox: Who will join Richard in '18 rotation?

Who has a guaranteed spot in the Padres' rotation next season?
-- Campbell D., Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Clayton Richard. And that's it.

The rotation race will be wide open entering Spring Training. There are eight players under contract set to compete for those four remaining spots. And all eight have question marks -- whether due to injury, youth or career decline. Luis Perdomo and Dinelson Lamet are early favorites.

Given all the uncertainty, however, I'd expect the Padres to sign at least two free-agent starters capable of opening the season in the rotation. One of those pitchers could be Jhoulys Chacin. The other? Well, it's a thin market. But Derek Holland, Jeremy Hellickson and even old friend Tyson Ross are all options.

Submit a question to the Padres Inbox

How will the Padres deal with their logjam at second base? Will Luis Urias start there, no matter what, by the 2019 season?
-- Sergio Q.

It's far too early to anoint Urias, the club's No. 3 prospect, as the starting second baseman after next season. He'll be 21 on Opening Day 2019. As good as he's been at the lower levels of the Minors, he still has room to grow -- as evidenced by his .380 slugging percentage with Double-A San Antonio this season. (Of course, Urias coupled that mark with a .296 average and a .398 on-base percentage.)

There's a clear logjam at second base, and Urias' impending arrival only clutters things further. Yangervis Solarte, Carlos Asuaje and Cory Spangenberg all have a place in the team's future plans. But none has emerged as a definitive building block.

That makes it particularly difficult to project a trade. I'd expect one of those three to be moved before the start of the 2018 season. The two players who remain will enter camp as starters at second and third base. It won't be long before Urias is pushing them for a job.

Will the Padres be looking for another stopgap shortstop or will they go after a long-term option?
-- Pog L.

Chances are, the Padres will be looking for yet another stopgap, as they've done each of the past three offseasons -- when Clint Barmes, Alexei Ramirez and Erick Aybar filled the void. The difference is: This time a stopgap solution seems OK.

Fernando Tatis Jr., ranked as San Diego's fourth-best prospect and No. 51 overall by MLBPipeline, is one of the fastest rising prospects in baseball. He set Class A Fort Wayne's single-season home run record, then he was promoted and held his own at San Antonio. (Never mind that at 18, he was six years younger than the average age of players in the Texas League.)

Tatis is close. He could make an impact at the big league level as soon as 2019. But Tatis is not the only impressive shortstop prospect in the system. With that in mind, the Padres won't bet the farm on a shortstop this offseason. They'll likely be content to bring in another veteran free agent -- unless there's a low-cost, high-upside option available on the trade market.

What is the biggest offseason focus for general manager A.J. Preller?
-- Hayden F.

Preller will be looking to add in a number of areas this offseason, and we've already addressed the two most pressing -- shortstop and starting pitching.

That said, Preller's biggest focus will almost certainly be on the trade front. Specifically: What does San Diego do with Brad Hand? Preller took a gamble by hanging on to one of the most coveted relievers on the market at the Trade Deadline. Hand has rewarded Preller's faith by posting a 2.01 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP in the second half.

Hand is under team control for two more seasons. His trade value remains sky high, and there are 29 other teams that could use bullpen help. Surely, the Padres will be offered some of the game's top prospects for Hand.

Preller must decide whether he's willing to part with one of the game's best relievers. If so -- and this is the likelier option -- it shouldn't be hard to find a trade partner. But if not, then Preller needs to get serious about the possibility of extending Hand's contract by a year or two. The worst-case scenario for San Diego would be seeing Hand walk in 2019, just as the organization's young talent begins to push the team into contention.

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.