SAN DIEGO -- Say this much for Padres general manager Jed Hoyer's second offseason with the team: It's been considerably busier than last winter, when the team didn't make its first significant move until mid-January. Busier, of course, is a relative term for the Padres, who parlayed a handful of smart and late roster additions last winter into a team that surprised essentially everyone, winning 90 games and finishing one victory shy of making the playoffs. As Hoyer and his staff prepare to head to the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., they will do so with the understanding that the Padres -- who had the second-lowest payroll in baseball in 2010 -- will again mostly watch the proceedings instead of being an active participant.
For now, at least. "We'll keep our lines in the water," Hoyer said. "But I feel like when free agency starts, we'll have to sit on the sidelines. I think we'll make some deals, though. I think we have to." That is the reality of a team that had a $38 million payroll last season. Hoyer has payroll will increase slightly and that number will "start with a four." Those deals and, specifically, those free-agent additions, won't likely happen until January, when the Padres hope to corral a few bargains like they did a year ago and, also, possibly add more players through trades. The Padres got a jump on filling their needs by striking one of the first deals of the winter last month when they acquired outfielder Cameron Maybin from Florida, dealing from a position of strength (their bullpen), sending relievers Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica to the Marlins. That trade addressed one of the Padres' biggest needs: finding a player who is able to patrol a big center field at PETCO Park. The Padres hope the 23-year-old Maybin will benefit from a change of scenery and produce like he did in the Minor Leagues, where he had a .306 batting average, a .393 on-base percentage and a .478 slugging percentage. The Padres will continue to look for a starting pitcher or two to join Mat Latos, Clayton Richard and Tim Stauffer. The Padres made an offer to Jon Garland, who won 14 games and was the innings-eater they coveted in 2010, but he has signed with the Dodgers. There are a handful of internal options, but the team will certainly add a pitcher this winter. The Padres need at least one player who can play in the middle of the field, either as a shortstop or second baseman. Neither Miguel Tejada nor David Eckstein was offered arbitration, though Hoyer hasn't closed the door on either player. In fact, Hoyer has had discussions about bringing Tejada back, though it wouldn't be a situation where he would be the everyday shortstop. "We have been in contact," Hoyer said of conversations with Tejada's agent. "He had a wonderful run for us. He's a player we think highly of." Finding offense, particularly through free agency, will be trickier. PETCO Park is about as pitcher-friendly as ballparks go, which has and will continue to work against the team when attempting to lure free-agent position players to San Diego. "If guys are going to sign a one-year deal and hit the market again, places like Arizona or Cincinnati are places where you want to go and put up big numbers," Hoyer said. "... We have to attract offensive players in free agency that aren't going to worry about how this ballpark is going to affect them offensively." While Hoyer doesn't have many moveable Minor League players, players who are Major League-ready, he does have two valuable trade commodities in All-Star closer Heath Bell and All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez will be a free agent after the 2011 season and has said he will explore free agency. He will likely begin the regular season with the Padres, unless Hoyer is floored by a deal he can't pass up. Bell is arbitration-eligible and due a raise from the $4 million he made last season. Even with the trade of Webb and Mujica to the Marlins, the Padres still have depth within the bullpen ranks and could entertain offers on Bell at the Winter Meetings and beyond.