Klesko likely to return -- and move on

End of the road for Klesko in San Diego?

SAN DIEGO -- Ryan Klesko wants to play another season if he's healthy, but he figures it won't be with the Padres and he knows it won't happen if he has recurring problems with a pinched nerve in his neck, which troubled him late last season.

"I'm not going through that again," Klesko told MLB.com this weekend before the Padres hit the road for their final six-game trip prior to the All-Star break. "As long as it's not causing any damage in my neck for me to play another year, I'd like to try. But if there is any damage and it starts coming back and hampers my swing, then I'm done. I'm not going to have neck surgery to try and play another year."

As far as playing for another team, Klesko, who is currently on the disabled list after surgery to repair the A/C joint in his left shoulder, was pretty definitive.

"I definitely think there's a chance of that," he said. "I could go somewhere else once I show I'm healthy and some team comes after me. I'd like to play in a more hitter-friendly park. Go to a place to accommodate more of my talents. I can understand why the Padres wouldn't want to spend that much money to have me play here again."

The Padres concur. A high-ranking team official told MLB.com this weekend that it was "most unlikely" the ballclub would exercise a $7 million option to bring Klesko back next season. Instead, the Padres will buy him out for $500,000 and Klesko would become a free agent.

Part of the reason for this amicable divorce is the spacious PETCO Park right field, which has been anathema to the lefty-swinging Klesko, who has hit only 17 of his 272 career homers since the ballpark opened prior to the 2004 season. The other is that the Padres have young players like rookie first baseman Adrian Gonzalez stacking up at the positions Klesko can play.

"Who knows? [Klesko] could come back in August and September and Adrian could go down," said Kevin Towers, the Padres general manager. "He could hit 10 or 15 homers and be the savior. That's why I never like to say never. But the likelihood is doubtful that we'd pick up the option."

Before that event transpires, the Padres may try to deal Klesko.

The 35-year-old Klesko said he would consider waiving a no-trade provision in his current contract and move to another contender later in the season if he finds that his playing time is severely limited in San Diego. Klesko, as a 10-year veteran who's played the last five years with the same club, has the right of refusal on all trades.

Klesko said he would certainly study that option.

"It's up to me," Klesko said. "I'm the one with the no-trade clause. Most likely I wouldn't accept anything unless it was to the right kind of place. I mean, I may if my playing time is going to be cut short. I'm not really concerned about that. When I'm back in the lineup, when I'm healthy, hopefully there'll be a spot for me in the lineup. Not necessarily every day, but however they feel. If not, then I might waive my rights and go somewhere else."

According to all parties, Klesko won't be ready for even a Minor League rehab assignment until Aug. 1, a day after the non-waiver trade deadline. But Towers said that the waiver process wouldn't be an impediment to moving Klesko before the Sept. 1 playoff-eligibility deadline.

From Aug. 1 until the end of the regular season, any player has to clear waivers before he's traded. Klesko -- with about $2 million remaining on the $8 million portion of his 2006 contract at that point -- should have no problem clearing that hurdle, Towers said.

"I'll get him through waivers," Towers said about the 13-year veteran. "If he goes out on rehab and proves himself healthy, I think some contending clubs will show interest because of what he's done in the past. Even if it's at DH to have a left-handed power hitter. He's not really an older player. And it's not a lot of money to take on for a couple of months, especially since there won't be a lot of power bats available at that time."

Klesko has never had an established defensive position in his seven seasons playing for the Padres, shuttling between right field, left field and first base. He was earmarked for first base this season, but was placed on the disabled list with a sore left (throwing) shoulder on April 1 and underwent surgery to repair the A/C joint in that shoulder on April 10.

Since then, Gonzalez, 23, has earned the first base job and there's no room in the outfield for Klesko, who won't be asked to play there anyway because of the stress it would place on his shoulder, Towers said.

"That's the way [Klesko] should be thinking right now," Towers said. "Adrian has preformed very well. He's certainly a guy that we're going to let play. He deserves the right to play. He's young. He's a guy we hope is going to be here for a long, long time. So we'd probably go to Ryno and tell him that we'd like to trade him off a rehab assignment. Here are the clubs that are interested. Let him make that decision."

The Padres obtained Klesko from Atlanta on Dec. 22, 1999, in a six-player trade that sent Wally Joyner and Reggie Sanders to the Braves. The Padres subsequently have twice extended his contract. The original three-year, $18.75 extension through 2004 was extended again by two years through 2006 for another guaranteed $16.5 million.

Since then, Klesko has been beset by back, neck and shoulder ailments. He had season-ending surgery to repair the A/C joint in his right shoulder in September 2003.

Last year, the pinched nerve in his neck left him with little power.

Klesko reiterated that any recurrence of the nerve problem would end his career. He had to take several cortisone shots in his neck last season to deal with that pain as well as a couple of more shots in the shoulder this spring before opting for surgery.

"I've had a very blessed career," he said. "I've played in three World Series. I've got a world championship ring. I've played in the All-Star Game. I've played in Southern California. We went to the playoffs last year. I'm very content with what's happened and what I've done."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.