Padres unlikely to go big in market

Padres unlikely to go big in market

SAN DIEGO -- Free agency is set to begin at 9:01 p.m. Thursday, though if history is any indication, the Padres will likely be quiet on that front again this offseason.

The Padres, coming off a season where they had a $43 million payroll, aren't expecting to have much more to work with in 2010.

The team, instead, will likely focus on avoiding arbitration with four players -- pitchers Heath Bell, Kevin Correia and Mike Adams and third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff -- who figure to earn sizable raises, perhaps as much as $12 million collectively.

Padres owner Jeff Moorad has said in the past that he would like the payroll to eventually grow to $70 million or so, or roughly where it was in 2007, when the Padres' payroll on Opening Day was $73 million.

That won't happen right away, though.

Moorad said at the end of the season that the payroll was going to "begin with a four," so the payroll could be akin to what it was last season. Still, there's some wiggle room for the Padres to pursue some free agents.

"As far as approaching free agency, we're not going to be major players for free agents because of the size of our payroll," new general manager Jed Hoyer said Thursday. "But we're going to go after targets we like ... aggressively. We have money in the budget to spend on free agency."

The Padres already have $11 million wrapped up in two players -- starting pitcher Chris Young ($6.25 million) and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez ($4.75) -- as well as another $1 million in second baseman David Eckstein.

Counting Young, Gonzalez and Eckstein, and if Bell, Correia, Kouzmanoff and Adams receive raises that amount to, say, $12 million, then that's $24 million. The rest of the roster is comprised of players who made the minimum salary of $400,000 in 2009 or slightly more.

So there could be some wiggle room to pursue free agents, something that Hoyer's predecessor, Kevin Towers, didn't always have such a luxury of.

A year ago, Towers signed veterans Cliff Floyd, Eckstein and Henry Blanco to deals worth a combined $2.35 million.

What are the Padres looking for? That's tough to say. Hoyer has said publicly that the overall roster is in good shape, that there are not any glaring holes that need immediate attention. But there are needs for a team that went 75-87, finishing with a 37-25 push.

Outfielder Brian Giles and Blanco filed for free agency. Giles won't return but the Padres might have interest in retaining Blanco, who did a nice job with mentoring catcher Nick Hundley and played well in a reserve role. The White Sox have also shown early interest in Blanco.

The Padres have two third basemen on their roster in Kouzmanoff and left fielder Chase Headley, a third baseman by trade. The team could move one of the players for a right-handed bat, which is believed to be a priority this offseason.

Could former Padre Mike Cameron, 37 in January, be an option? Cameron was popular during his two seasons (2006-07) and never wanted to leave in the first place. Cameron had 59 extra-base hits last season, notched his highest on-base percentage (.342) since 2006 and even took 75 walks. Would he be interested in a one-year deal?

The Padres could be looking for another starting pitcher, even though they have several candidates for those spots heading into Spring Training and are in far better shape with depth than they were a year ago.

Young, Correia, Mat Latos and Clayton Richard look like locks for the rotation. There are other candidates as well, like Sean Gallagher, Aaron Poreda, Tim Stauffer, Cesar Ramos and Wade LeBlanc.

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