Catch a Rising Star

The release of Gary Bennett from the San Diego Padres further fueled speculation that a front line starting catcher will be acquired this offseason. The team still owes $1.2 million to Wiki Gonzalez and they feel he can do a formidable job as a backup. Don't count out Humberto Quintero – once thought to be just a defensive catcher – who has developed a nice hitter's stroke. Who are the potentials then?

"We were in a dumping mode starting in around 1998," GM Kevin Towers said. "We expect to be more aggressive now, but I don't see us getting in any high-stakes poker games."

The Padres have already said they want to upgrade at the starting catcher slot and have targeted numerous names as possibilities. If there is a catcher on the market, through free agency or trade, they have been, or will be, linked to the San Diego Padres.

Oh yeah – the club still owes Wiki Gonzalez $1.2 million for next season.

What about Wiki?

"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."

That has been put to rest. Moving along.

What about Quintero?

Quintero could actually be the future at catcher for the Padres. He really has turned his career around. A defensive stalwart that once picked a guy off on an intentional walk, Quintero is beginning to hit for a nice enough average to be considered an everyday player.

It won't happen this year.

Is Miguel Ojeda an answer?

Ojeda is hitting .244 on a dominant Mexican League team. He is ok in small doses, but the feeling here is he will never be more than a backup, if that.

Brad Ausmus is hinting at retirement. The lone destinations that appeal to Ausmus are San Diego and Houston. The catcher spoke with the Astros on Thursday and the Padres have yet to contact his people.

"We're talking, there's not anything imminent," Ausmus said Friday. "We're communicating back and forth, never losing contact. It's in everybody's best interests to come to some type of relatively quick decision. There's no rush to get it done immediately, but we don't want it to drag through the winter."

Benito Santiago is interested in returning to San Diego. At 38, his tank is running dry. Picking up the pieces from a Giants team that has won the division and is going in another direction to maintain that stranglehold at the top is not the right move.

They say catchers' start hitting their decline at 32.

Jason Kendall is still the most viable option. Why? A deal with the Pirates would likely clear Kevin Jarvis from the books and bring another guy who wants to be in San Diego home.

He remains a solid hitter at 29, is a career .304 hitter and would produce in the Padres lineup.

One thing is clear – the team is making it known that any players that want to come to San Diego will be pursued. Ausmus may not have heard from the Padres as of Friday, but it is still early.

There will be feelers sent out regarding Ivan Rodriguez, but his demands could be too high after the 2003 season he had and as Towers mentioned, he will not be pulled into a bidding war.

The trade avenue?

One trade has been pulled from the table. It involved an NL catcher, and the Padres are going another direction.

Two other deals are still trying to be worked out. No names were given, but it is believed to be the deal with the Pirates, which has picked up steam again according to league sources and another deal with the Minnesota Twins.

"Matthew LeCroy is poised for a breakout season and could hold the fort as a catcher until Mauer is ready," one AL scout told us. "AJ talks could take on a new life if the Twins get pitching and infield help in return."

Whatever happens, Kevin Towers has maintained that a catcher will be in place by the end of this month. With names like Maddux linked to the Padres, to go with the likes of Brian Lawrence, Jake Peavy and Adam Eaton, the potentials could all be lining themselves up outside Petco to play in San Diego.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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