Around the Horn: the NL West

Normally we have reserved the around the horn for the rest of the NL West, but now we have upped the ante. San Diego Padres fans are interested in what their counterparts are doing, but there remains plenty to talk about concerning the Friars, inculding the signing of Akinori Otsuka.

San Diego Padres:

"He sneak-attacks you," GM Kevin Towers said of Giants GM Brian Sabean. "We were after (catcher A.J.) Pierzynski, and I had no idea the Giants were the other club. Then, boom! The Giants always find a way to put a good product on the field. Our goal is to win the division, and to do that, we have to be better than the Giants. I don't think we're there yet."

The San Diego Padres today agreed to terms with right-handed pitcher Akinori Otsuka on a two-year contract with a club option for 2006.

"This is the first time the Padres have agreed to terms with a talent such as Akinori Otsuka from the Japanese Leagues and hopefully it opens the door to greater opportunities in the Asian market," said Towers. "Otsuka is a very talented relief pitcher who will be a great addition to our bullpen. He's had great success in Japan and we look forward to that success carrying over with the Padres."

Otsuka, 31, went 1-3 with 17 saves and a 2.09 ERA (10 ER/43.0 IP) in 51 relief appearances for the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League last season. Since 2002, he has walked only eight batters and struck out 110 while holding batters to a .175 average against.

The 6-0, 198-pound right-hander compiled a 14-23 record with 137 saves and a 2.39 ERA (93 ER/350.2 IP) in 305 career appearances in the Japanese Leagues. Otsuka posted a 4/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and averaged 12.2 strikeouts per 9.0 innings over his career. He was named the top reliever in Japanese baseball in 1998 when he earned a Pacific League-record 35 saves in 49 games with the Kintetsu Buffaloes.

The Padres will open spring training Feb. 20 when the pitchers and catchers report to Peoria, Ariz. The position players will report Feb. 25. San Diego's first game against another team will be the annual charity game against Seattle in Peoria on March 5. The Padres' 31-game spring schedule concludes with two games against Seattle at San Diego's new Petco Park on April 3-4. The Padres will have a workout April 2 at their new home.

The San Diego Padres today named Jo Jo Tarantino as trainer at Short Single-A Eugene for the 2004 season. Director of Player Development Tye Waller made the announcement.

Tarantino, 25, interned for San Diego's head trainer Todd Hutcheson and assistant trainer Jim Daniel in 2003 following his graduation from San Diego State University. He began his Padres career as a batboy, a position he held from 1995-2000 before working as a clubhouse assistant for two seasons.

Arizona Diamondbacks:

Newly acquired Richie Sexson gives the Diamondbacks a formidable right-handed slugger they haven't had since Jay Bell hit 38 homers and Matt Williams slugged 35 in 1999.

"That's a no-brainer. I have just over three months in the bigs, and (Sexson) hits bombs. Just tell him to bring his checkbook." -- 2B Matt Kata, on the possibility of surrendering his jersey number 11 to Sexson.

The Diamondbacks re-signed free agent infielder Carlos Baerga to a one-year deal that guarantees him at least $1 million.

General manager Joe Garagiola Jr. said he will look for backup middle infield help and starting pitching. The Diamondbacks have interest in infielder Chris Gomez but are exploring other options. They need quality depth after dealing infielders Craig Counsell and Junior Spivey as part of the Sexson trade.

The trade of Curt Schilling means that Brandon Webb, who posted the National League's fourth lowest ERA (2.84) last season, will take over the No. 2 spot in the rotation. Elmer Dessens will move into the third spot, creating openings for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.

The candidates are John Patterson, Edgar Gonzalez, Andrew Good, Casey Daigle, Phil Stockman and perhaps Oscar Villarreal, who set an NL rookie record with 86 appearances last season but was a starter in the minors.

Colorado Rockies:

Vinny Castilla, an original member of the expansion Rockies, is expected to return for the 2004 season, filling the void at third base. Signing Castilla will be a tribute to general manager Dan O'Dowd's contract creativity, making Castilla fit into the Rockies' budget but providing a package Castilla can accept. It also will speak of Castilla's desire to return to Colorado, where has maintained his offseason home in the Denver area since he was dealt to Tampa Bay four years ago.

There remains a desire to work a similar deal with shortstop Rich Aurilia. Aurilia has a legitimate interest in the Rockies, but before he makes a decision he wants to see what the market will look like for a shortstop once free agent Miguel Tejada signs and possible deals are made involving Alex Rodriguez of Texas and Nomar Garciaparra.

"That's not the type of deal we're going to jump at now," Aurilia's agent Barry Axelrod said. "We're flexible and can try to be as creative as they want to be. I guess the issue is more the value -- where it is in relation to the market. And I haven't seen the market slip that much."

The Rockies' finances will work against them, but they do have strong factors that Aurilia wants -- they are an NL West team that trains in Arizona and wants him to play shortstop.

"Obviously, we need a shortstop," said O'Dowd. "We have (Clint) Barmes in house, and the other option is to look at external options. ... Aurilia is someone who profiles nicely for us."

In tight financial times of past offseasons, O'Dowd acquired Jeffrey Hammonds from Cincinnati for a fading Dante Bichette; Jose Jimenez, who became the Rockies' all-time save leader, for Darryl Kile in a seven-player deal four years ago; starting pitcher Denny Stark and left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes from Seattle for Cirillo two years ago; and center fielder Preston Wilson in a three-team deal last winter that sent Mike Hampton to Atlanta.

Los Angeles Dodgers:

GM Dan Evans continues to insist that he has the autonomy to complete trades and sign free agents while Frank McCourt hammers out his plan to finance the $430 million purchase of the team from News Corp. But so far, Evans hasn't backed up his words.

Evans is aggressively pursuing deals on several fronts, but through Friday the team had not completed any deals. Rebuffed in efforts to obtain Derrek Lee or Richie Sexson, the Dodgers were thought to be interested in a number of free agents. They made an offer to Seibu Lions shortstop Kazuo Matsui, but it was much less than the three-year, $21 million pitch made by the Mets.

Miguel Tejada is an intriguing free-agent possibility, but Evans might be more keenly interested in solidifying his middle infield with Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. Evans has worked for more than a week to find a match with the Red Sox, who reportedly have a standing offer from Texas to acquire Alex Rodriguez in exchange for Manny Ramirez.

The Dodgers did sign one player Sunday -- 1B-3B Robin Ventura agreed to a one-year contract.

San Francisco Giants:

Slowly but surely, the Giants are filling out their roster -- mostly with their own players.

They retained first baseman J.T. Snow (one year, $1.7 million), outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds (one year, $1 million), pitcher Dustin Hermanson (one year, $750,000) and reliever Matt Herges ($2.5 million, two years). Snow, Hammonds and Hermanson were free agents, and Herges was eligible for arbitration.

The Giants also signed free-agent outfielder Michael Tucker, who spent last season with Kansas City, to a two-year, $3.5 million deal. Tucker figures to platoon in right field with Hammonds.

The Giants were interested in Richie Sexson, who was traded to Arizona, and Gary Sheffield, who's close to signing with the Yankees. But so far, they haven't signed free agents other than their own.

"I'm a big Richie Sexson fan. He can hit the ball out of any ballpark, including ours," Giants owner Peter Magowan said. "We had an interest in him, but we were concerned with what we would've had to give up."

"Gary Sheffield would have been a great fit for the Giants, but we couldn't squeeze him into our payroll. Same with Guerrero -- you're talking about $12 (million), $13 million a year for five or six years, committing $70 million-plus, and you're talking about someone who had a back problem.

"Even without Sheffield or Guerrero, I believe we'll continue to do what we've been doing, which is to compete every year. We're asking our fans to trust us. We'll figure it out."

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