Padres looking to retain their youth at Meetings

Padres looking to retain their youth at Meetings

Padres looking to retain their youth at Meetings
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Padres have spent the last few years going to great lengths to improve their Minor League system, adding talent to their ranks through trades, international signings and the old-fashioned way, through drafting and developing.

As you might expect, parting with such young, controllable talent -- MLB.com's Top 100 prospect list currently has six Padres prospects -- isn't something that excites the front office, not as it attempts building with these players, not sending them off in trades.

"There might be a point in time when we trade out of our farm system for a here-and-now piece to win," general manager Josh Byrnes said.

But that time isn't now.

As the second day of the Winter Meetings passed without much activity from the Padres, it's certainly worth mentioning that the club still seeks a starting pitcher to add to its rotation depth. Inking Jason Marquis to a one-year deal on Monday was a step in that direction. But the team still wants to add at least one starter.

"Ideally and realistically, it's one more," Byrnes said.

While the price of free agents remains high -- pitcher Dan Haren got a one-year deal for $13 million on Tuesday with the Nationals -- the Padres have generally had a quiet week, without much in the way of discussion with agents or other teams about pitching.

"I wouldn't say there's been great progress," Byrnes said on Tuesday.

While the Padres have some surplus in corner-infield types and Major League-ready bullpen pieces to dangle, they are skittish about dealing away top prospects from a farm system they have carefully built into one to envy in the industry.

"You've got to strike a balance. We're building a farm system for a lot of reasons. The main reason is to have a winning team at the Major League level," Byrnes said.

"At these meetings, which are pretty slow for us, it's apparent our best way to get to players is to have depth, surplus, whatever you call it, for when you make a trade, without weakening ourselves."

It has taken some time for the Padres to rebound from unproductive Drafts. But they've added better pieces in recent years, not potential superstars, but players who are projected to develop into Major Leaguers.

Six of the Padres' top 10 prospects, according to MLB.com, are homegrown. Four of them were added through trades, like pitchers Casey Kelly (Red Sox), Robbie Erlin (Rangers), Brad Boxberger (Reds) and Joe Wieland (Rangers).

Kelly, Boxberger and Wieland made their Major League debuts with the Padres last season and Erlin figures to do so in 2013. Homegrown infielder Jedd Gyorko could make the team out of spring as a second baseman. Several more players are a year or two away.

"Plan A is to have a player we develop internally who turns into a very good player. Chase Headley is a good example," Byrnes said. "But having that depth is the way to get those players more so than free agency."

There appears to be some dynamic talent on the way. Top prospect, outfielder Rymer Liriano, had a monster Arizona Fall League season. Catcher Austin Hedges will begin the season with Class A Lake Elsinore. He's received rave reviews from those inside and outside the organization. There's several power arms in the Minor Leagues that aren't too far off.

For now, though, the plan is to continue to fill the Minor League system with good players. That starts with assistant general manager of player personnel Chad MacDonald -- who presides over the Draft -- and later Randy Smith, the vice player of player development and international scouting.

"Once you make trades and deplete depth, it's hard to regain that," Byrnes said. "There's been a lot of work to rebuild us to where we are. The new rules in the [Collective Bargaining Agreement] make rebuilding your system in a short period of time hard to do. If you don't have the young players and the depth, it's hard to win."

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.