SAN DIEGO -- The Padres need pitching. Petco Park is a great place to pitch. So filling one need this winter -- adding starting pitchers -- should be easy enough for the team, right?
Well, not when so many other teams are looking for pitching. This is one of the challenges the Padres face as they move forward into the winter -- and with general manager Josh Byrnes and the front office heading to baseball's annual Winter Meetings at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville from Monday through Thursday.
To date, the Padres have had productive talks with other teams and representation for free agents and could be close to making a deal for pitching.
"We have focused most of our energy on starting pitching ... with more of our energy on trades than free agency," Byrnes said. "Now we have to bide our time and find the ones who fit."
Byrnes said recently that the team has had more talks about potential trades than adding free agents. He also cautioned that the team needs to find dependable and durable starting pitchers, especially on the heels of a season where the rotation was ravaged by injuries.
"With where we are now, with so many guys coming off injuries, it's not the time for us to take a flyer on a health risk," Byrnes said. "There's nothing wrong with it ... but it's just not the right time for us to do so."
The Padres can certainly count their city and ballpark as selling points to prospective free agents. Former Padres general manager Jed Hoyer once said he was approached repeatedly by agents of pitchers, all of them inquiring about pitching in San Diego.
But, Byrnes said, there's more to it than that.
"It's a great city, and players love playing for [manager Bud Black], and I think there's a feeling that we're not far from being a pretty good team," Byrnes said. "I give players a lot of credit, because a lot of free-agent choices are based on winning."
Starting pitching: See above. Really, this is the singular focus of the team moving forward. The Padres were torpedoed early last season by injuries, forcing them to look outside for replacements like Jeff Suppan, Jason Marquis, Kip Wells and Ross Ohlendorf. Byrnes wants to avoid this at all costs. That will mean signing or trading for two capable starters -- innings-eaters, who will fit with what the team already has and can succeed at Petco Park.
Who they can or need to trade
RP Joe Thatcher: Preface: The Padres like Thatcher -- a lot. He's been very good facing lefties, which is why he holds good trade value and might be the target of other teams. The Padres, while not looking to deal Thatcher, might have to include him or Luke Gregerson (see below) in a deal to land a starting pitcher. Also, if the team trades Thatcher, it has a left-handed reliever in Tommy Layne, who was good against lefties in a small sample-size.
RP Luke Gregerson: Again, the Padres don't want to deal pitchers like Thatcher or Gregerson, who has been reliable late in games for the Padres and, in 2012, rediscovered his wipeout slider. But if the team has any excess -- or, a better word might be inventory -- it's in the bullpen, where it has several capable arms and some good ones on the way in the Minor League system.
1B/OF Jesus Guzman: In addition to the bullpen, the Padres have some corner-infield depth, that means that Guzman might be expendable. He's been a terror against left-handed pitching and could potentially be a platoon fit for a team either at first base or the corner outfield.
The overall profile of the Padres' Minor League system has gotten incrementally better in recent years -- the result of trades, drafting/player development and international signings. The 2011 Draft could very well eventually yield several Major Leaguers. If the Padres opt to make a deal this winter, they have a few commodities to do so.
The top five prospects -- according to MLB.com -- are outfielder Rymer Liriano, third baseman/second baseman Jedd Gyorko, pitcher Max Fried, pitcher Casey Kelly and catcher Austin Hedges. Gyorko might well start the season as the Padres' starting second baseman, and Kelly -- who came over from Boston in the Adrian Gonzalez deal -- could be a part of the starting rotation in 2013.
Rule 5 Draft
The Padres head to the Winter Meetings with a full 40-man roster, meaning any moves they make from here on out -- the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 6 included -- will require them to create free space. Don't look for the Padres to add a player in the Rule 5 Draft, as the roster is pretty much set, especially from a position-player standpoint. The team had to make some tough decisions recently in setting its 40-man roster, leaving several notable players exposed. There's a good chance that infielder Jonathan Galvez could be picked during the Rule 5 Draft. First baseman Nate Freiman has raw power but won't likely be selected.
Big contracts they might unload
There simply aren't any. Remember, the Padres gave contract extensions to outfielders Carlos Quentin and All-Star closer Huston Street midway through the 2012 season. Quentin will make $9.5 million, and Street will make $7 million in 2013. Chase Headley is set for a big bump in pay, though the Padres won't move him in a deal. Other than these three, the rest of the payroll, at least for 2013, is manageable.
Arbitration-eligible: 3B Headley ($3.475 million in 2012), RHP Edinson Volquez ($2.237), LHP Clayton Richard ($2.705), RP Gregerson ($1.550), OF Will Venable ($1.475), C John Baker ($750,000), RP Thatcher ($700,000), SS Everth Cabrera ($495,600).
Payroll summation: The Padres' Opening Day payroll in 2012 was a shade over $55 million, and that figure is likely to grow some in 2013, as the new ownership group has vowed to increase payroll. Contract extensions for Quentin and Street midway through the 2012 season can be taken as a sign of the commitment to grow payroll. Without knowing for sure -- the team won't say publicly what the payroll will be -- expect that figure to push into the $60 million range, perhaps as high as $70 million.