Padres aim to acquire more offense

Padres aim to acquire more offense

SAN DIEGO -- On the day after their demise, a collection of Padres players and staff gathered on Sunday to briefly discuss winter plans as they watched the Astros and Braves play on and on in the clubhouse.

The Cardinals put an abrupt end to the Frairs' fall season with a three-game sweep of the National League Division Series, wrapping it up with a 7-4 decision in Game 3 on Saturday night in the first postseason game at PETCO Park.

If there is to be more October business at PETCO this time next year, general manager Kevin Towers left no doubt about where the home improvements need to be made.

"Hitters, hitters, hitters," Towers said, responding to an inquiry about the team's most pressing needs.

How management goes about fortifying its offense remains to be seen. The challenge will be even greater if right fielder Brian Giles, catcher Ramon Hernandez and third baseman Joe Randa depart as free agents. All are expected to file their papers when the World Series ends, and none of the three has any clue how high the Padres will go in an effort to meet the value set by the marketplace.

Towers and new CEO Sandy Alderson will put their heads together and try to determine how much of the club's resources they can allocate for their own free agents before they begin to sort through those who will be set free by other clubs.

Alderson has made it clear that Giles, the team's MVP and the brand of player coveted by those who adhere to "Moneyball" principles, will be a high priority, along with closer Trevor Hoffman, the face of the franchise since Tony Gwynn's retirement.

"We have to get busy," Towers said. "That's the thing about this job. You can't even sit back and reflect on the season you just had before you have to go to work."

Towers feels his pitching staff is in good shape, even with Hoffman, veteran relievers Chris Hammond and Rudy Seanez and starter Pedro Astacio looming as free agents.

Clay Hensley, who made a tremendous impression in middle relief and with one start, will be given every opportunity to nail down a starting job in Spring Training. Another starting possibility is Australian Chris Oxspring, who performed capably at Tripled-A Portland along with Hensley, before the latter's mid-July callup.

Hensley said he'd go home to Texas and relax before getting back into his workout program. He plans to return to San Diego after the first of the year and work out with teammates.

"I'm going to get a jump on Spring Taining," Hensley, 26, said. "I really want to have a good year. This gave me a feel for what it's like. Now I think I'm ready to show what I can really do."

Hensley fashioned the best ERA on the staff, 1.70, across 47 2/3 innings, not giving up a single home run. In September and October, with every appearance heavy with meaning, his ERA shrunk to 0.83 -- two earned runs in 21 2/3 innings.

Oxspring, who will spend the offseason at his home in Sydney, Australia, where our winter months are summer Down Under, had a 3.75 ERA in 12 innings and has the stuff to make a strong bid for a spot in the rotation.

Ace Jake Peavy, one of the club's cornerstones, will be back, along with Adam Eaton, Woody Williams, Brian Lawrence and Chan Ho Park.

If Hoffman gets an offer he can't refuse from another club -- something nobody in San Diego wants to see happen -- Scott Linebrink, superb in his setup role with an 8-1 record and 1.83 ERA in 73 appearances, appears to have the aptitude and attitude to assume the closer's job.

Seanez, who struck out 84 in 60 1/3 innings while going 7-1 with a 2.69 ERA, said he'd love to be back but has no idea if it will happen.

Hammond, one of the league's premier relievers in the first half, was unavailable for much of the second half with debilitating injuries to his neck and lower abdomen. He'll be 40 next season.

The shape of the everyday lineup for 2006 is anybody's guess at this point. So much depends on Giles, Randa and Hernandez. Ryan Klesko is expected to move back to first base from left. If Giles relocates, it's conceivable the club could decide to give young right-handed hitters Ben Johnson and Xavier Nady corner outfield jobs with Dave Roberts and Eric Young platooning in center. (The team has an option on Young and figures to bring the popular veteran back.)

Johnson, departing PETCO Sunday, said he was weighing the notion of playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela and is determined to come to Spring Training primed to win a job in the outfield.

Alderson and Towers could venture into the free agency market for a loud bat to take better advantage of PETCO's inviting left-field fences. This was essentially foreign territory for the Padres, who generated most of their right-handed pop from Hernandez, shortstop Khalil Greene and Randa after he arrived from the Reds at midseason.

Randa lives in Kansas City and, even though he said he thoroughly enjoyed San Diego, might opt to sign his next contract with a club closer to home. Displaced Sean Burroughs and the athletic Nady could be options at third. And then there's second baseman Josh Barfield, judged the organization's premier position-playing prospect.

Barfield, having done all he can at Triple-A, likely will be given every opportunity to make the club next season.

Mark Loretta, the incumbent at second, finished strong and will be determined to make up for two months of lost time in a disappointing '05 related to thumb surgery. Greene is a fixture at shortstop, a future All-Star to build around along with Peavy.

Should Hernandez accept free agency riches in another port, Miguel Olivo, who was so impressive after coming south from Seattle, will get every opportunity to make the catching job his. Olivo has all the tools and a work ethic second to none.

Invaluable role players Mark Sweeney, Robert Fick and Damian Jackson are unsigned and hope to be invited back. All three were critical to the club's success with inspired contributions while regulars were sidelined by injuries that hit the club all season.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Towers said, noting that winning the National League West at 82-80 isn't likely to happen again in his lifetime, meaning improvement must be made.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.