Closure Already!

The plan was in motion last week. When the San Diego Padres agreed to a deal with the Oakland Athletics that would send Mark Kotsay north for Ramon Hernandez and Terrence Long, it was expected to begin the transformation of the club from pretender to contender.

That plan, however, was on at least temporary hold because the trade that sent center fielder Mark Kotsay to Oakland for catcher Ramon Hernandez and outfielder Terrance Long also was on hold.

That 2-for-1 trade was apparently completed Tuesday (Nov. 18). But by week's end, the finalization of the deal was still awaiting an "outside" evaluation of MRI exams taken of Kotsay's back and now a physical was expected to take place Monday. Kotsay missed 16 games in May and early June while on the disabled list because of his back, which troubled him sporadically through the season.

Now Towers is playing a little game with Oakland stating he will also ask for physicals on Hernandez and Long.

Were he to stay with the Padres, CF Mark Kotsay was planning to work out with eight-time National League batting champ Tony Gwynn in January. Gwynn counseled the Twins' Jacques Jones last January.

Completion of the Kotsay trade is crucial to the Padres because it would give them the "front-line" catcher they desperately need at a fraction of the cost it would have taken to land Jason Kendall.

If the Ramon Hernandez trade falls through, the Padres are down to two options for a starting catcher -- making a trade for Kendall or signing free agent Benito Santiago. Brad Ausmus has re-signed with Houston.

Hernandez, 27, hit .273 with 21 homers and 78 RBI in 140 games with the A's last season. Long, 27, hit .245 with 14 homers and 61 RBI last season, although he had only a .293 on-base percentage. If the trade is completed, the Padres could try to move Long to another team.

5 -- Homers hit by five Padres catchers in 2003.
78 -- RBI by all five Padres catchers.
.226 -- Collective average of five Padres catchers in 2003.
21 -- Homers by Ramon Hernandez in 2003.
78 -- RBI by Hernandez.
.273 -- Hernandez's batting average.

Hernandez is the heavy-duty catcher the Padres have coveted. His acquisition would answer one of three burning needs for San Diego, the others being starting and relief pitching.

"I still don't think there is a problem," said Towers.

Notes: OF Gary Matthews Jr. was claimed off waivers by the Atlanta Braves on Monday. It will be the eighth stop for the 29-year-old outfielder who made his Major League debut with the Padres in 1999.

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