The Padres have offered Bell, the three-time All-Star who pegs as a Type A free agent, arbitration, though Bell has said he's in no hurry to make a decision.
Bell has until 8:59 p.m. PT on Dec. 7 to decide whether to accept the offer. If he does, the Padres and Bell are bound to a one-year contract for 2012 at a salary which will be much higher than the $7.5 million he made last season.
With Bell, the Padres will have less wiggle room to work with as Byrnes goes about the task of constructing a roster for next season. Without Bell -- and the Padres will happily take two Draft picks if he signs with another team -- the team will have more money to work with.
"Obviously, the Heath Bell situation will affect us a lot. If he doesn't accept [arbitration], we'll have more money," Byrnes said recently. "... Right now, things are moving a little slower until we know what happens with Heath."
The Padres will also keep an eye on what decision pitcher Aaron Harang makes. Harang pegs as a Type B free agent. Like Bell, the Padres have offered Harang arbitration. So if he turns down the Padres' arbitration offer and signs a deal elsewhere, the Padres receive one Draft pick in the supplemental round.
Once Byrnes has some clarity on what Bell, and to a lesser extent Harang, will do, he'll continue to try and add pieces to a team that lost 91 games last season. He's looking for late-inning relief options -- even if Bell returns -- and also options for the bench to give manager Bud Black more options than he had a year ago.
The recent additions of Kotsay and Baker filled a couple of needs -- both are left-handed hitters. Kotsay, the Padres feel, can help off the bench as an outfielder and can play some first base in a pinch. The Padres also feel he'll be a positive clubhouse presence.
One of Byrnes' primary goals this offseason is to improve the offense, especially against right-handed pitching.
Last season, the Padres ranked last in the Major Leagues in batting average against right-handers (.229), 29th in on-base percentage (.301) and 30th in slugging (.340). The Padres also ranked 28th in baseball in pinch-hitting (.161).
The Padres also wanted to improve their depth at catcher. Nick Hundley, who the Padres are very high on, missed 63 games last season with two disabled-list stints. Baker figures to improve the depth at that position and give the Padres the production they missed a year ago when Hundley was injured.
There's speculation that the Padres might try to trade either shortstop Jason Bartlett or second baseman Orlando Hudson this winter. Both will make $5.5 million next season and with Everth Cabrera a potential fit at either position, the Padres could create some more wiggle room financially by dealing one or the other, though Bartlett did provide stability at a critical position in 2011 and the team might be less inclined to trade him.
Could the Padres potentially swap Hudson and his contract -- he's owed a total of $7.5 million with a $2 million buyout for 2013 -- for a comparable contract? The Colorado Rockies have had some internal discussions about Hudson. The Padres could possibly have interest in closer Huston Street ($7.5 million in 2012) if Bell declines arbitration.