Padres Depth at All-Time High

Jason Kendall can stay in Pittsburgh. No matter how you shape it, the San Diego Padres are a better team heading into 2004. Health aside, the team is filled with depth and talent at every position. They lost a little defensively when Mark Kotsay was traded, but gained even more, especially with the recent addition of Jay Payton.

The Padres opened the 2003 season with a bench of Wiki Gonzalez at catcher, Dave Hansen as the first-third backup, Keith Lockhart and Lou Merloni as the spare middle infielders and Brian Buchanan and Rule 5 prospect Shane Victorino as the reserve outfielders.

As it stands now, the Padres' bench for 2004 includes Tom Wilson or Miguel Ojeda at catcher, Jeff Cirillo and Ramon Vazquez as the infielders and Terrence Long, Xavier Nady and Buchanan as the spare outfielders.

"We have a lot more protection and fewer question marks on our bench," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said.

As an example, both Vazquez and Nady were in the starting lineup when the 2003 season opened.

"I'm not concerned with our offense in center field," Towers said before the acquisition of Jay Payton.

Since the end of last season, Towers has added nine new faces to the Padres' core mix. The total climbs to 11 if you go back a month into the end of the 2003 season and add in Giles and rookie shortstop Khalil Greene.

There are new starters at the top (David Wells) and bottom (Sterling Hitchcock or Ismael Valdes) of the rotation and new starters in the lineup (outfielders Giles and Jay Payton, catcher Ramon Hernandez and Greene).

The bullpen will be supplemented by foreign import Akinori Otsuka (Japan) plus the signings to retain closers Trevor Hoffman and Rod Beck.

Towers said the reasons for the improvements are, in a word, money.

"We've had a chance to do some things that we haven't been able to do recently," he said. "We've had a little more money. Not a windfall amount, but enough to address some needs."

Towers believes the Padres could have one of the National League's top offenses next season. "I think we have a chance to score 800 runs next season," he said.

Add a few more to that total with the addition of Payton.

"He has had some success out there and we are able to keep Giles where he is at his best," Kevin Towers said of Payton.

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