If San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller has proven anything in his 3.5 years on the job, it’s that he is not wedded to any specific ideology. The signing of free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million contract seems unusual in several ways: The Padres are not ready to contend in 2018; in sabermetric circles, Hosmer is widely perceived to be drastically overrated; and 13 months ago the club had committed to first baseman Wil Myers with a long-term contract through 2022. Obviously, the Padres think more of Hosmer than the numbers people do. Ignoring the SABR biases against him, the 28-year-old is a very good player who plays every single day, hits the ball out of the park, has occasional stolen base speed, plays the game fundamentally well, has postseason experience, and is well-regarded off the field. He makes the team immediately better and improves its attractiveness as a destination for other would-be free agents. With many big names set to be on the market after 2018, this is a signing for the now and a “means to an end” move. So how do the Padres take those next steps into contention? Barring any surprises, their eyes are on 2019 for a jump into true contention. Let’s look at what must happen for Preller’s plan to come to fruition and to accomplish that goal. 2018 Before the 2017 season, the Padres’ roster was crafted to tank. They stocked their club with journeyman veterans Clayton Richard, Jhoulys Chacin, Jered Weaver, Trevor Cahill and Erick Aybar who, if they played well, could be spun to further boost their farm system. Youngsters Austin Hedges, Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe and Dinelson Lamet were given opportunities to play; Myers and Yangervis Solarte were signed to long-term contracts; and outside-the-box risks were taken by trying Christian Bethancourt as a pitcher after developing as a catcher with the Padres. A young manager, Andy Green, was hired to handle the wide-ranging rebuild on the field. Whether it was due to parity, (over)performance, or a combination of both, the Padres were nowhere near as bad as their roster indicated they would be. Finishing at 71-91, they even managed to finish ahead of one of the preseason favorites in the NL West, the San Francisco Giants, who endured a hellish 98-loss season. Did this tell Preller that the time was ripe to expedite the rebuild with Hosmer? Was it the opportunity of a depressed free-agent market? Or is it part of the long-term plan? Perhaps it’s all three. Regardless, in addition to Hosmer, the Padres have acquired Chase Headley and Freddy Galvis to man the left side of the infield. They traded Solarte and chose to retain closer Brad Hand rather than deal him. The 2018 rotation is similar to 2017’s – there are no big names on the depth chart. However, their farm system is packed with young pitching prospects, some of whom (Cal Quantrill, Logan Allen, Joey Lucchesi) could be in San Diego at some point in 2018. Questions have been raised as to what they’re going to do with Myers now that Hosmer is on board. Myers was not a good defensive outfielder in his time spent there with the Tampa Bay Rays and Padres, but judging by Preller’s decision to put Myers in center field in 2015, defense is not high on his list of key skills as long as the player can do other valuable things. With his contract status, Myers could be an alluring trade chip if their outfielders develop. It would not be stunning to see the Padres take a perceived step back in 2018 if they’re judged on wins and losses. In fact, it’s likely they will. The defending NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers are still a dominant team; the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks both made the playoffs in 2017; and the Giants are dead set on a rapid turnaround with the acquisitions of Evan Longoria, Andrew McCutchen and Tony Watson, as well as the return to the day-to-day operations of executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean, the architect of their three World Series wins since 2010.