Padres could bolster bullpen at Meetings

Padres could bolster bullpen at Meetings

SAN DIEGO -- First-year Padres general manager Josh Byrnes and his staff will head to the Winter Meetings in Dallas on Sunday with a workable list of ideas of how they can go about improving a 91-loss team from a year ago.

"We've got a few conversations in both areas [trades, free agents]," Byrnes said. "I think we're open to anything where we can get better or things that might make more sense for the long haul.

"There's five or 10 things that go to the front of the line to see if they have any traction."

While Byrnes has had some discussions with agents of available players, don't be surprised if he passes on the financial risk of big years and big money for free agents.

"In my time in Arizona, we had a couple of times where we didn't spend a dollar in free agency," Byrnes said. "For a lot of teams, free agency isn't the focal point of their offseason."

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At least the Padres no longer have to wait on three-time All-Star closer Heath Bell to accept or decline their arbitration offer. A source on Thursday indicated Bell had agreed to a three-year deal worth $27 million with the Marlins.

This gives the Padres more financial flexibility this winter than if Bell had accepted the arbitration offer.

Now the Padres need to find a closer, and Byrnes said Thursday that the "eighth and ninth innings" are the priority for the team moving forward.

Below is another look at the club's offseason checklist:

Club needs
Relief pitching: Even if Bell had accepted arbitration and returned for a fourth season as closer, the Padres were going to look for arms for the back of their bullpen. Now they'll have to, as there's no internal candidates ready to assume the closing role.

Bench: Byrnes wants to give manager Bud Black more options, which is why he went out and signed free-agent outfielder Mark Kotsay to a one-year deal. Kotsay, a left-handed hitter, can start or provide a bat off the bench. Look for more help for the bench to come.

Offense: The Padres have already added Kotsay and a backup catcher in John Baker, both left-handed hitters who Byrnes is hoping can improve what was the worst offense in the Major Leagues against right-handed pitching in 2011. If the right deal is there, Byrnes said, the Padres could make another move.

Who they can or need to trade
SS Jason Bartlett: Bartlett played better in the second half of the season while providing consistency at an important position the Padres hadn't seen since Khalil Greene. That said, Bartlett will make $5.5 million in 2012 and the Padres might deal him with Everth Cabrera capable of handling the position, but only if they can upgrade the Major League roster, like adding arms to the bullpen.

2B Orlando Hudson: Hudson struggled in his first season with the team and missed 35 games because of two stints on the disabled list. He will make $5.5 million next season, though he is also guaranteed a $2 million buyout for 2013. That makes moving him problematic, as the Padres would certainly have to eat some or most of that money, or swap it for a bad contract. There is hope internally that Hudson -- whom Byrnes has some history with from their days in Arizona -- will rebound.

Top prospects: RHPs Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland, Simon Castro, Keyvius Sampson; LHP Robbie Erlin; OFs Rymer Liriano, Jaff Decker, Reymond Fuentes; 3B Jedd Gyorko, INF/OF James Darnell.

The Padres, while reluctant to part with any of the top prospects that have allowed them to rebuild a once struggling farm system, might have to deal a player or two to help them acquire player(s) to bolster the big league team. There is belief that pitchers like Kelly, and especially Wieland and Erlin, could be ready to help the Padres sometime midseason if they continue to develop. Liriano is widely regarded as the best position player in the system and won't be heading anywhere. All of the aforementioned players, with the exception of Sampson, Decker and Gyorko, are on the 40-man roster.

Big contracts they might unload: Bartlett ($5.5 million in 2012), Hudson ($5.5 in 2012, $8 million club option for 2013 with a $2 million buyout).

Arbitration eligible: LHPs Clayton Richard and Joe Thatcher; RHPs Luke Gregerson, Tim Stauffer, Dustin Moseley; OFs Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, Jeremy Hermida; and C Nick Hundley.

Non-tender candidates: OFs Aaron Cunningham, Jeremy Hermida.

Payroll summation: Team vice chairman and CEO Jeff Moorad said in October that the payroll will receive a bump in 2012, up to the $53-55 range, due in large part to the new television deal that should be in place by Jan 1. The payroll last season was about $46 million. With Bell agreeing to a deal with the Marlins, the team should have some financial wiggle room this winter.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.