Building a Contender in San Diego

San Diego Padres fans are awaiting this offseason with a hint of hesitation. They want to believe the Friars are heading in the direction that the Philadelphia Phillies did last season. Kevin Towers understands that and while he is trying to be wise with his investments, he expects to field a winning ball club next season. One interesting name that many have tabbed for San Diego has not heard his phone ring.

There has been speculation about the team signing everyone and anyone, but that isn't ideal. The team has a solid core of players and has committed to some youth in the form of Khalil Greene at shortstop.

Portland legend Bill Schonely thinks Greene is the long awaited answer at shortstop. "He is the real deal and a great young kid. He is up there to stay."

Considering Schonely has been in the game for forty years, his words carry some weight.

Still there are a few gaps that remain. First and foremost is signing Trevor Hoffman, mimicking a move the Phillies just pulled off – putting the closer's role to rest.

"It's helpful to get that No. 1 priority solved sooner rather than later," Phillies general manager Ed Wade said.

Much like Philly added Jim Thome, the Padres added Brian Giles, a bat for the new park.

Now the attention turns to catcher, the starting rotation and the bullpen.

Plenty of schools of thought remain in the catcher's role. Sign a "free" agent – with fans picking one from all ends of the spectrum, or trading for a younger stud entering his best years who might be do for a raise in a town that has budget concerns.

A trade is preferable to Kevin Towers, but he is not willing to give up the farm. He knows the market will come down as players get signed and is sticking by his end of November goal to have a catcher in place.

Brad Ausmus, the San Diego County native, filed for free agency last week, and he has received some interest early on – from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He has yet to receive a phone call from the hometown team.

There is no secret about the desire for a lefty starter and Chuck Finley is the frontrunner. They wont pay big bucks for one as they search the landscape for a viable option that can become this years Estaban Loaiza.

Many have tabbed David Wells as a possibility. "That is a city that could get his attention," agent Gregg Clifton said.

The problem says Clifton, three other teams have called about Wells, and the Padres are not one of them.

Bullpen help is perhaps the scariest. Relievers move all over the globe as one thing or another kicks them out of town. Plenty of options exist, but this could be the key to the offseason.

Despite preaching fiscal responsibility with an increased payroll, the Padres are looking for great things in 2004 and beyond.

"We'll know what we're made of the next couple of years," Towers said. "We're back in the mode of winning our division. I really feel we're going to have that chance again."

Manager Bruce Bochy could not agree more. He yearns for the excitement seen in the playoffs this year.

"There's nothing more exciting than that month of September in a pennant race," Bochy said. "It's like the wildest ride you'd ever been on."

With the right combination, the Padres could become this year's Cubs.


Fearing that they might not be able to retain arbitration-eligible Gary Matthews Jr. as their fourth outfielder, the Padres are courting two popular former Padres -- Eric Owens and Gene Kingsale. Owens hit .270 with Anaheim last year but hit only one homer in 241 at-bats and had only a .300 on-base percentage. He was a popular member of the Padres in 1999 and 2000. Kingsale, 27, is close to accepting a minor league contract with the Padres. Kingsale hit .278 for the Padres in 2002 but was traded to Detroit last winter for catcher Michael Rivera. Kingsale hit .225 in 120 at-bats with the Tigers.

Matthews hit .271 with four homers and 22 RBI in 103 games with the Padres last season after being released by the Orioles. He was playing on a one-year, $900,000 contract and could command an increase ... which the Padres aren't likely willing to grant.

Denis Savage can be reached at

Notes were compiled by our MLB Insiders staff

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