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Pricey pitching market affecting Padres' strategy

SAN DIEGO -- The escalating costs of several recent free-agent deals has the Padres looking more at the trade market as they go about trying to bolster their starting rotation.

San Diego general manager Josh Byrnes said Thursday that the team hasn't entirely ruled out pursuing another free-agent pitcher -- the team signed Jason Marquis earlier this month -- but matching deals in terms and length is a sizeable hurdle.

"I wouldn't totally close the door on it," said Byrnes. "We're still working on a short list of ideas."

That short list includes at least one free agent, pitcher Edwin Jackson, who pitched for Byrnes and also assistant general manager A.J. Hinch previously in Arizona. In fact, Jackson tossed a no-hitter in 2010 when Hinch was the manager of the D-backs. Jackson has been a target all winter for the team.

But with Anibal Sanchez reportedly getting a five-year contract worth $80 million with the Tigers and Ryan Dempster getting two years and $26.5 million with the Red Sox, the trickledown will likely mean available free-agent pitchers like Jackson, Shaun Marcum and Kyle Lohse could still land bigger deals.

"Moves like these have some ripple effect and can change the landscape," Byrnes said.

So what does that mean for the Padres?

Byrnes indicated that his preference is not to go beyond three years in length on a contract for a free-agent pitcher. That could mean a trade to land pitching is far more likely.

There's palpable frustration from the Padres' fan base that it's mid-December and yet the team has signed only one starting pitcher.

To that end, Padres fans, Byrnes feels your pain.

"I get it. I understand," Byrnes said. "But in markets like ours, some of the big stuff that happens during December is not at our podium. I think what we did in July had a big impact on how our offseason was going to be, keeping guys like [Carlos] Quentin, [Huston] Street and [Chase] Headley.

"But in a perfect world, we're making moves in-season and out of season."

The Padres signed Quentin and Street to contract extensions in a seven-day period in July and decided not to trade Headley before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

There's the possibility the team doesn't add a pitcher at all.

The team currently has eight pitchers for five rotation spots -- Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, Robbie Erlin, Marquis, Anthony Bass, Eric Stults, Tyson Ross and Casey Kelly. Minor League invitee Sean O'Sullivan, who has started in the past, could be a contender if he wins a job in the spring.

Byrnes said pitcher Andrew Cashner -- recovering from recent thumb surgery to repair a lacerated tendon -- won't begin his throwing program until early March and would need at least three to four weeks to get his arm in shape and then another three to four weeks of throwing in "something that resembles Spring Training" before he returns. That could be June.

The Padres also hope to get pitchers Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland back midseason after each had elbow surgery last season.

"Even though we'd like to improve our starting pitching, we like our [internal] candidates," Byrnes said.

But what Byrnes wants to avoid is any repeat of what happened early last season, when the team became buried in the National League West standings after underperformance and a rash of injuries, many to the starting rotation.

By June 1 of last season, the Padres were 18-35 and 14 1/2 games out of first place in the NL West and were already turning to outside candidates to fill out the rotation -- hello, Ross Ohlendorf.

"There's a risk in being too patient and we don't want a repeat of April and May, but if we can get into the season and return to health, we'll have more firepower in-season," Byrnes said.

On the position-player front, Byrnes said the roster is essentially set.

"I doubt it," said Byrnes when asked if he's planning on adding position players. "I don't see us altering our position-player mix much, if at all."

San Diego Padres, Anthony Bass, Andrew Cashner, Robbie Erlin, Edwin Jackson, Casey Kelly, Cory Luebke, Jason Marquis, Clayton Richard, Tyson Ross, Eric Stults, Edinson Volquez, Joe Wieland