Friar Rumblings

The San Diego Padres talk is heating up as we close in on the World Series. No transactions are allowed to be posted during the Fall Classic, but that is not stopping General Manager Kevin Towers from working the lines and setting up his offseason wish list, the first of which is a catcher.

The release of Gary Bennett, coming as a shock to some has made this possible and further fueled speculation. Wiki Gonzalez is due $1.2 million next year and the team feels he can do a formidable job as a backup.

"Wiki came on at the end of the season with (Class AAA) Portland," said Padres general manager Kevin Towers. "We think he can do the job as the backup."

Kevin Towers has acknowledged that trading for a catcher is a distinct possibility. He cites two AL catchers and one NL catcher as possibilities, all of whom played in the postseason this year.

Scanning the AL rosters it is apparent to see who is among the leaders on the list.

In Oakland, prospect Jeremy Brown is set to take over the catching duties from Ramon Hernandez. Brown, a former first rounder, has hit well at each stage along the way and the team feels he can provide the same pop Hernandez did, with significant upside.

A deal centering around Mark Kotsay, who the A's are said to covet, is not out of the realm of possibility. The Padres have one too many outfielders already and are looking to make room for Xavier Nady. The Athletics could also use a reliever in any deal.

Hernandez is intriguing since he has caught for the top pitching staff in the American League for the past few seasons. He is still young and entering the prime of his career. Having already handled a young staff with flying colors, Hernandez would seemingly ease into the role in San Diego.

In Minnesota, the Twins are ready to hand the mitt to Joe Mauer. Current catcher A.J. Pierzynski ($365,000) is eligible for salary arbitration and it could cost the Twins well over $2 million to keep him. Pierzynski is one of the Twins toughest competitors, but with so much hitting on the horizon in Minnesota, the Twins are seeking to deal him for more pitching.

Mauer is hitting .333 in the Arizona Fall League and was named Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America. He is set for prime time.

Pierzynski, a career .300 hitter is the Twins' field general. It will take something significant from the minors to get AJ. A deal centered around Dennis Tankersley, who, despite what Towers has said recently, may need a change of scenery.

Pierzynski is another catcher who is just entering his prime at 26 years old. The other benefit to adding AJ is he is a left-handed hitter. The Padres are looking to add another lefty to the lineup as they see Petco being favorable to lefties.

Taking a look into the NL, his comments leave us bewildered. There is no one of value to trade for among the postseason clubs. Most of the "bats" are free agents anyway and not likely to be back with the club they ended the season with. Recent troubles to Florida catcher Ramon Castro could leave him off the list.

Fallback options include Benito Santiago and Brad Ausmus, but look for a deal to happen for one of the catchers in the AL. The timing is right for both AL teams to make deals and Towers could be in the right place at the right time. With Pierzynski expected to get a large raise it could force the Twins hand to make a deal. Hernandez, meanwhile, has a salary of close to $2 million for 2004 and if the Athletics can get some help in the bullpen, which was sorely lacking in 2003, they could easily give up Hernandez.

The chess match has started and Towers has made the first move.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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