The San Diego Padres could do so much if they did not have the quagmire at the position. Carlos Beltran, Steve Finley and others would do quite well but the position is already loaded and Freddy Guzman waits in the wings. ">
The San Diego Padres could do so much if they did not have the quagmire at the position. Carlos Beltran, Steve Finley and others would do quite well but the position is already loaded and Freddy Guzman waits in the wings. ">

Padres cornered at center

"Put me in coach, I am ready to play, today – centerfield." <br><br> The San Diego Padres could do so much if they did not have the quagmire at the position. Carlos Beltran, Steve Finley and others would do quite well but the position is already loaded and Freddy Guzman waits in the wings.

Yet, the Padres are taking a long, hard look at the club's options in center field -- knowing they might be limited.

Offensively, everyone who played center was downright offensive. Worse than putting supermarket hot sauce on a taco.

Despite a late season rush by Jay Payton, he was a major disappointment at the plate. He was, however, better than expected defensively in the spacious center/right-center pasture at Petco Park in San Diego.

Payton is already signed to 2005 and might be hard to trade given his 2004 season. And corner outfielders Ryan Klesko, Terrence Long and Brian Giles are also signed through at least the 2005 season.

"We might not have a lot of flexibility to sign someone unless we move someone," said Padres general manager Kevin Towers.

The Padres success hinders upon the success of an outfield that didn't produce as expected all-around.

"I don't think Payton will have a repeat of 2004," Towers said. "I think this season was an exception."

And it has to be to quell the fans who are pining for more. As Towers proclaims the budget for 2004, they watch Beltran, Finely and others fall by the wayside.

"I had a lot of things going on during the first half of the season," said Payton, who turns 32 on Nov. 22. "I'd like to think if I'm back here next season, there will be better results."

Even Payton isn't certain of his return. Full of promise, short on delivery has been the motto of a once promising career.

Payton finished the year with a .260 average with eight homers and 55 RBI. But he was hitting only .234 on Aug. 24 with four homers and 39 RBI. And even with the late rush, Payton finished without hitting a homer at Petco Park. He hit only .242 for the season at home with 20 RBI in 227 at-bats.

The numbers compare unfavorably with his 2003 totals, when he hit .302 with 28 homers and 89 RBI with Colorado. Half those homers were on the road.

The list of possible challengers to Payton inside the Padres family is topped by rookie Freddy Guzman, who hit only .211 in a late season cameo (14 starts). Terrence Long is also a possibility, although he lacks the speed and defensive skills to play the spot regularly at Petco Park.

Beltran, well – some of us can dream.

Mad Friar Wire:

The Padres are looking to landscaping the area around the batter's eye at Petco Park as a way of expanding the hitting backdrop while softening the lines of the multi-purpose building, which is something of an eyesore. The problem with the backdrop in San Diego is that the structure serves a multitude of purposes -- including housing the security headquarters and the television screen for the Park in the Park. Most parks have screens. One idea to to put mature trees on both sides of the batter's eye to both widen the background and soften the lines of the building.

Major League Baseball is taking a second look at on-the-field bullpens at Petco Park, but the visiting bullpen down the right-field line at Petco Park doesn't allow for much contact between fans and rival pitchers. There is a walkway between the bullpen and the seats. A bigger problem would be the close proximity of the bullpen mounds to the foul line. "It makes you think twice about going full-speed toward the line for a foul ball," Padres right fielder Brian Giles admitted this season. In the final week of the season, San Francisco's Dustan Mohr was injured when he tripped over the bullpen mound catching a game-ending sacrifice fly.

Rumor mill:

One pitcher already on the free-agent market who might interest the Padres is LHP Mike Matthews. In 2003, Matthews paced the Padres with 77 appearances, working everything from situational appearances to long relief. He was 6-4 with a 4.45 ERA. The Padres, who operated most of the 2004 season without a left-hander in the bullpen, contacted Cincinnati about re-acquiring Matthews late last spring when the pitcher was in Triple-A, but the Reds recalled him rather than making him available. The Reds released him at the end of the season.


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