Around the Horn: the NL West

The news this week has been quiet regarding the San Diego Padres. They made a few signing of their own players and one player was signed to a minor league contract. The news is still mum regarding what is presumably the last starting pitcher's spot. In Arizona, their rotation appears to be set, the Rockies have added an outfielder and lost several players, the Dodgers are stil seeking a deal and the Giants see shortstop as a sore spot with no help in sight.

San Diego Padres:

The Padres 40 man roster sits at 39 with the re-additions of Miguel Ojeda and Todd Sears this week.

Ojeda, a catcher. appeared in 61 games with the Padres, batting .234 with four home runs and 22 RBI. he is expected to compete for the backup role to Ramon Hernandez with Wiki Gonzalez, tabbing Humberto Quintero to go back to Portland for another year.

Sears plays first base and the outfield. He was used mostly as a pinch hitter and appeared in nine games, batting .250. Sears played in a total of 33 games between the Twins and Padres, batting .247 with two home runs and 11 RBI.

The team also agreed to a minor league deal with pitcher Eddie Oropesa. Oropesa, 32, pitched out of the bullpen for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2003. In 47 games with the Diamondbacks, Oropesa went 3-3 with a 5.82 ERA (25 ER/38.2 IP). Over parts of three Major League seasons with the Diamondbacks (2002-2003) and the Philadelphia Phillies (2001), Oropesa has a career mark of 6-3 with a 6.94 ERA (64 ER/83.0 IP) in 109 games, all in relief.

Arizona Diamondbacks:

The Diamondbacks solidified their starting rotation by signing free-agent pitchers Steve Sparks and Shane Reynolds. Sparks, 38, is a knuckleball expert whom agent Barry Meister and team officials believe will benefit from changing leagues.

Sparks was 0-6 with Detroit in Oakland last year in a relief role. He pitched 232 innings for the Tigers in 2001. Sparks has stayed injury-free since undergoing reconstructive right elbow surgery in 1997 with Milwaukee.

Reynolds was 11-9 with Atlanta last season after Houston waived him in spring training. Reynolds made only 13 starts with the Astros in 2002 because of a pinched nerve in his lower back that resulted in season-ending surgery. He also was sidelined for the first three weeks of the 2001 season after tearing the meniscus in his left knee while jogging in the offseason. Reynolds, however, proved he was healthy last season by throwing 167 1/3 innings for the Braves.

The additions of Sparks and Reynolds would lessen the necessity to add youngsters to the rotation. Candidates John Patterson, Edgar Gonzalez and Andrew Good haven't yet spent a full season in the major leagues.

The Diamondbacks also added quality depth by signing free agent catcher Brent Mayne to a one-year, $800,000 contract, and by acquiring backup infielder/pinch hitter Greg Colbrunn from Seattle in exchange for backup outfielder Quinton McCracken. Mayne, 35, is a left-handed hitting catcher with 13 years of experience. He will share the duties with Robby Hammock. The acquisition of Mayne made Rod Barajas expendable; Barajas wasn't tendered a contract by the Saturday (Dec. 20) deadline for arbitration eligible players. Colbrunn, 34, is a career .322 pinch hitter who played for the Diamondbacks from 1999 to 2002. He is recovering from left wrist surgery that limited him to 58 at-bats last season, but he insists he's fine.

LHP Casey Fossum, acquired from Boston in the Curt Schilling trade, will get a shot in the rotation. Fossum was 6-5 with a 5.47 ERA in 19 games for the Red Sox last season, but his durability is in question.

Colorado Rockies:

General manager Dan O'Dowd made the best of a bad situation when he traded reliever Justin Speier to the Toronto Blue Jays in the three-team deal that brought left-handed starter Joe Kennedy to the Rockies from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Toronto lefty Mark Hendrickson went to Tampa Bay. The Rockies were able to parlay a pitcher to whom they were not going to tender a contract into a pitcher who was Tampa Bay's Opening Day starter in 2003 but is a season away from having the power of salary arbitration.

"Even if we didn't face (arbitration with Speier), this would be a deal we'd have to consider," said O'Dowd. "We've added a 24-year-old lefty who had phenomenal success in the minor leagues and has a quality arm."

Kennedy is the lone left-hander in a potential group of starters that includes Jason Jennings, Shawn Chacon, Aaron Cook, Denny Stark, Chin-hui Tsao, Scott Elarton and Jason Young. He has faced the challenge of Coors Field once, and after a shaky first inning he was impressive in an eight-inning, 6-5 Tampa Bay loss to the Rockies on June 23, 2002. Kennedy gave up a three-run home run in the first inning but only two earned runs in the next seven innings.

"I'm not caught up in the mind games or curses or whatever of that park," said Kennedy. "I'm looking forward to a fresh start. I look at the good seven innings I pitched there, know what has to be done, and feel I can build off that." Kennedy went 7-8 with a 4.44 ERA in 20 starts with Tampa Bay as a rookie in 2001 and was 8-11 with a 4.53 ERA in 2002. Last year, he was only 3-12 with a 6.13 ERA and made the final 10 of his 32 appearances out of the bullpen. He did, however, one-hit Detroit on May 2.

LF Jeromy Burnitz was signed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract after LF Jay Payton was non-tendered. Burnitz's left-handed bat gives Colorado the opportunity to alternate left-right with power hitters from third through seventh in the lineup, with lefty Helton followed by right-handed cleanup man Preston Wilson, the lefty Larry Walker, recently signed right-handed bat Vinny Castilla and Burnitz. Burnitz had 31 homers last season, the fith time in the past six seasons he has topped the 30 homer mark.

Burnitz batted .274 with 18 homers through 65 games with the Mets, which was good enough for the Dodgers to acquire him in a trade at the All-Star break. In Los Angeles, Burnitz batted just .204 but upheld his power with 13 homers in 61 games.

RHP Brian Tollberg, an independent league discovery of the San Diego Padres, will get a shot at the Rockies rotation in the spring. He has been signed as a six-year minor league free agent. Tollberg has pitched into the seventh inning in all four of his career starts at Coors Field, and San Diego won three of the four games.

Los Angeles Dodgers:

General Manager Dan Evans needed to find at least three big bats for his major league worst offense, including a proven right-handed cleanup hitter. He got Juan Encarnacion, who was days away from becoming a non-tendered free agent. The Dodgers gave up minor league outfielder Travis Ezi for Encarnacion, who was signed to a two-year, $8 million contract.

With the Nomar Garciaparra talks just about dead, the Dodgers were looking for other options. Vladimir Guerrero is the best right-handed hitting free agent since Alex Rodriguez, but because of the ownership situation, the Dodgers cannot offer Vlad a multiyear contract.

2B Alex Cora re-signed with the Dodgers for one year and $1.3 million, a slight raise over his 2003 salary of $1.15 million, rather than risk being non-tendered.

LHP Wilson Alvarez signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract to return to the Dodgers. Alvarez also can earn an additional $1 million based on starts and innings.

RHP Brandon Weeden was obtained as the player to be named in the deal that sent Kevin Brown to the Yankees. Weeden, 20, was the Yankees' second-round pick in the 2002 draft.

San Francisco Giants:

The Giants still haven't acquired a shortstop to replace Rich Aurilia, and all-field, no-hit Neifi Perez is No. 1 on the depth chart. That's not a comforting thought for Giants fans who saw Perez in 2003, when he hit .256 with one homer in 328 at-bats. Rumors circulated during the winter meetings that the Giants might be shopping Perez, along with relievers Jason Christiansen and Felix Rodriguez, to free up money to acquire another hitter.

"It's probably a little slow because of the whole shortstop scenario," said his agent, Barry Axelrod.

Miguel Tejada is an Oriole. Kazuo Matsui is a Met. It seems Alex Rodriguez will return to Texas and Nomar Garciaparra to Boston, but that still might change. The Blue Jays have made a push for Aurilia, though Aurilia would prefer a team that trains in Arizona, where he lives. Plus, it's questionable if he'd want to play on artificial turf. The Tigers are interested, but Aurilia has been used to playing for a winner. He was hoping the Diamondbacks or Padres would express interest, and he even seems willing to move to third base if necessary though his preference remains shortstop. The Red Sox asked whether Aurilia would move to second.

"There have been teams asking about (position changes)," Axelrod said. "Richie was taken a little aback and said, 'Am I that bad?' I said, 'Richie, you can't look at it that way. These teams asking have shortstops who are Hall of Fame-caliber or Gold Glovers.' It's not his first choice, but in the right market with a chance to win ..."

Their only acquisition during the meetings was backup outfielder Dustan Mohr, who hit .250 with 10 homers for the Twins.

The Giants signed 10 minor leaguers and invited them to big-league camp in spring training. Among the 10: A's 1997 No. 1 draft pick Nathan Haynes, who hit .276 with six homers in 119 games for the Angels' Double-A and Triple-A clubs.

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