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As Meetings end, bullpen help remains priority

Padres GM Byrnes still seeking left-handed reliever to bridge gap to closer Street

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Padres talked all week about improving their bullpen, explaining their need for at least one left-hander and someone who can pitch in the late innings to set up closer Huston Street.

With the Winter Meetings over and the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort emptied out, San Diego still has the same goals in mind. As expected, the Padres didn't make any big splashes in Central Florida. The only thing they did was send Anthony Bass to the Astros in exchange for 23-year-old lefty Patrick Schuster, who will compete for a spot in the bullpen.

But general manager Josh Byrnes left Thursday morning with the hope that a week full of meetings, discussions, offers and proposals will pay off in the near future.

"As productive as [the Winter Meetings] are for having conversations and sort of the pace of it all, I always think deals are sort of random when they actually happen," Byrnes said. "This year, the week before was extremely busy, and obviously, a lot can happen the week after and in January. You'd think this week would be the biggest week of activity, but some years it's not."

The hyperactive rumor mill that churned out news all week didn't produce much hype for the Padres. They were connected to a few lefty relievers, specifically Scott Downs in a FOX Sports report, but Byrnes made it clear the Padres have at least touched base with most of the available free-agent lefties. Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan tweeted San Diego was one of the five most likely destinations for right-handed setup man Joaquin Benoit.

Even the usual stream of Chase Headley rumors didn't last long. One report linked the Padres and White Sox as possible trade partners, but Byrnes shot that down Monday by saying Headley was a part of their plan to "take that step forward in 2014."

The good news for the Padres is that they didn't come here with a particularly long to-do list anyway. They took care of their biggest needs in the weeks leading up to the Meetings by signing starter Josh Johnson and trading for lefty-hitting outfielder Seth Smith. If they can sign or trade for a couple of relievers, they'll basically be all set for Spring Training.

As manager Bud Black said Wednesday, the Padres like their lineup. They're happy about the number of qualified candidates who will battle it out for five rotation spots this spring. They're excited to see and hear that guys like Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland and Cameron Maybin are getting healthy.

Now, as was the case when the Winter Meetings began, it's just a matter of getting the final pieces in place.

"We're trying to fill that void. And Josh and his guys are working awfully hard to do that," Black said. "You'll probably see some different names in the bullpen to shore that up."

Deals done: The Padres traded Bass to the Astros on Wednesday night, with Byrnes promising the other half of the trade would come Thursday morning in the Rule 5 Draft. Sure enough, Houston selected Schuster -- who's never pitched above Class A -- with the first pick and shipped him to San Diego, receiving the $50,000 it cost to make the pick in return. Otherwise, the Padres have made offers to free agents and proposed trades to other teams, but they left Disney with nothing set in stone.

Rule 5 Draft activity: They didn't make the pick, but the Padres acquired Schuster shortly after Thursday morning's Draft. They added two more players in the Minor League phase: 23-year-old catcher Adolfo Reina from the Tigers' Double-A Erie affiliate, and 24-year-old shortstop Jake Lemmerman from the Cardinals' Double-A Springfield club.

Goals accomplished: Schuster had been on Byrnes' radar for quite some time, so that certainly would qualify. "We like the guy we got," Byrnes said. At the very least, they finally have a lefty reliever on their 40-man roster.

Unfinished business: The Padres came here looking for bullpen help, and they left here looking for bullpen help. Unless Schuster develops quicker than expected and immediately leaps from Class A to a prominent role in the Majors, they'll need a situational lefty. While they're confident in the right-handers currently on the roster, they still would like to bring in somebody else for high-leverage, late-inning situations.

Bottom line: "It's rare that any sort of deal happens quickly, so it requires a lot of legwork to get there, maybe more than ever, but I don't know. I think that's the expectation. It seems like a lot of our conversations aren't progressing all that quickly. We're still involved in a lot of conversations and have made some offers, but so far nothing that's gotten us to the finish line."
-- Byrnes

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
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