Padres Spring Notes

Productivity in the farm system is an issue that the Padres are actively monitoring and serious about fixing. The fifth starter is still a question of debate with the San Diego Padres.

During a visit to the club's spring training facility, Padres owner John Moores said the club's farm system is falling below expectations.

"I've been unhappy about the productivity of the farm system," said Moores, who singled out his club's failure in the Dominican Republic. The Padres are planning to build a new facility in the country in an effort to identify and sign players.

"We've spent a lot of money in the Dominican Republic over the years and don't have very much to show for it," said Moores.

Moores said the Padres need to "go fix the organization."

Moores, CEO Sandy Alderson and general manager Kevin Towers have given control of the minor league system -- including scouting, the draft and player development -- to Grady Fuson.

If the Padres need starting pitching help -- and they believe they might -- it will come from within the organization, Towers said.

San Diego had courted its own free agent, Pedro Astacio, before he signed with Washington recently. And Towers said the odds of the Padres negotiating a deal with Boston for David Wells are getting longer with the passing of each day in spring training.

"Truth is," said Towers, "a tradable match with the Red Sox might not exist."

At the moment, the Padres have a set five-man rotation led by Jake Peavy and including Chris Young, Shawn Estes, Woody Williams and Chan Ho Park.

Estes is coming off a stress fracture in his foot that shortened his 2005 season but was sharp in first outing of the spring, throwing two scoreless innings against the Mariners, including successfully covering first on a grounder to the right side.

"I'm pleased with the way I felt physically," said Estes, whose foot was in a cast until November. Estes has adjusted his workout regimen to eliminate high-impact running in an effort to reduce the chances of a repeat stress fracture.

"That it happened two times last year is a fact you have to live with," Estes said after signing as a free agent with the Padres.

Both Williams, who worked two scoreless innings in his spring debut, and Park are healthy, although both veterans are coming off bad seasons.

Williams, 39, was 9-12 with a 4.85 ERA with the Padres in 28 starts last year. Park, 32, was 12-8 in a season split between Texas and the Padres but had an overall 5.74 ERA.

With Astacio out of the picture and Wells fading, what happens if the Padres need another starter?

The leading candidates are Clay Hensley, Tim Stauffer, Dewon Brazelton, Seth Etherton and Andy Ashby.

Andy Ashby?

The right-hander has had two rounds of elbow surgery and a round of shoulder surgery since he last started a major league game. And he's now 38. But Ashby has spent the last two years basically rehabbing with the Padres and has impressed both Towers and manager Bruce Bochy this spring.

"He's throwing the heck out of the ball," Bochy said of Ashby, who was in the Padres' rotation from 1993-99 and ranks fourth in the Padres' career ranks in wins (70) and winning percentage (.530) and is sixth in career ERA (3.60).

Clearly, Ashby is the sentimental favorite of Towers and Bochy, although Hensley, 26, might be the better pick.

A career starter in the minor leagues, Hensley was 1-1 with a 1.70 ERA in 24 appearances with the Padres in 2005. Twenty-three of those were out of the bullpen, and the Padres ticketed Hensley as their seventh-inning man ahead of Scott Linebrink and Trevor Hoffman as soon as Akinori Otsuka was traded to Texas.

Stauffer, 23, was 3-6 with a 5.33 ERA in 14 outings as the Padres' No. 5 starter in the middle of last season. Brazelton, 25, came from Tampa Bay (where he was 1-8 with a 7.61 ERA last year) for third baseman Sean Burroughs in a swap of disappointing former first-round picks.

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