Let me start by saying that the gap between signing Cole and Strasburg to anyone else in the free agent market is rather large.
But if they can’t reach a deal with the hometown guy, then I think the next best option is Zack Wheeler.
FanGraphs had Wheeler with a WAR of 4.7 in 2019, which is over two points higher than the best starting pitcher from the Padres in Paddack at 2.4.
Wheeler posted a 3.96 ERA this past season in 195.1 innings pitched with 195 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.25.
And despite his injury issues early in his career, he’s pitched in at least 182 innings in three of the last four seasons.
Over his five-year career, he has an ERA of 3.77 in 126 starts and 749.1 innings with 726 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.29.
He’s still in the middle of his prime as he’ll play the 2020 season at the age of 30.
MLB Trade Rumors has him as the fourth best free agent this offseason and predict he’ll get a five-year deal worth $100 million.
While he may not be the staff ace like Strasburg, he’s certainly a very good top of the rotation pitcher that could cost a lot less.