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Hot Stove Daily: San Diego Padres

Steve Henson
Yahoo Sports

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Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the San Diego Padres.

2008 record: 63-99

Finish: Last in the NL West, 21 games behind the Dodgers.

2008 opening-day payroll: $73.7 million.

2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $40 million to $42 million.

OFFSEASON ACTION

The demise of the Padres might not have begun with John and Becky Moores' divorce, but the split between the team's owners certainly accelerated the descent from frequent contender in a bad division to the dregs of a bad division.

And, like Barack Obama says about the economy, it might get worse before it gets better.

The Padres are hell-bent on reducing payroll to $40 million, a near-impossible task without trading ace right-hander Jake Peavy, who will make $11 million this year. Much of general manager Kevin Towers' offseason was spent conjuring deals to sell off his team's best on-field asset. His mistake was announcing right off that Peavy indeed would be dealt, thereby conveying desperation to potential partners in Atlanta and Chicago. Eventually the Padres reconsidered their urgency, and now it looks like Peavy will be the opening-day starter in San Diego.

Trading outfielder Brian Giles, a former power hitter now paid $9 million to be a walk machine, would be even more difficult because, unlike Peavy, no other team is likely to take him unless the Padres eat most of the salary. That, of course, would defeat the purpose of dealing him, meaning that two players will be paid half the projected payroll.

Starter Chris Young ($4.5 million) and lone true offensive force Adrian Gonzalez ($3 million) are bargains. Yet add to them the modest earnings of outfielders Jody Gerut and Scott Hairston, new closer Heath Bell, second baseman David Eckstein, shortstop Luis Rodriguez and backup catcher Henry Blanco, and the Padres have less than $6 million to spend on the last 15 players on their roster.

Khalil Greene and his $6.5 million salary were traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, leaving a gaping hole at shortstop the Padres have felt no urgency to fill. There was talk of bringing in Omar Vizquel for a year, but he signed with the Texas Rangers.

Still, a humble wish list flickers in San Diego. Towers would like to sign a starting pitcher and a veteran left-handed hitter off the bench.

REALITY CHECK

The Padres will have a punchless offense playing in a power-sapping ballpark. Oh, and the pitching staff is down two Hall of Famers.

All-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman was declining and Greg Maddux was through, so their absences might not be reflected in wins and losses so much as clubhouse presence and impact on the young players San Diego is counting on.

Behind Peavy and Young, the rotation is unproven (Josh Geer, Chad Reineke) or proven mediocre (Cha Seung Baek, Wade LeBlanc). Bell was groomed for the closer role and should be fine. Behind him, however, the pickings are slim, nothing near the bullpen that keyed the Padres' four consecutive above-.500 finishes from 2004 to 2007.

The 'pen might be a moot point. How many leads will they be asked to hold? Runs could be scarce with an offense that boasts Gonzalez and little else.

Third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff will continue to bat behind Gonzalez in the No. 5 hole once he recovers from November shoulder surgery. Chase Headley will fill in at third until Kouzmanoff is ready, then scoot to left field and likely bat sixth.

If Gerut leads off, that means he's the center fielder rather than the fourth outfielder. If Eckstein leads off, that means Headley might bat second. Promising catcher Nick Hundley fits in somewhere, and nothing would please manager Bud Black more than for Hundley to become a surprising run producer from the No. 7 hole.

Shortstop could become problematic. Luis Rodriguez batted a soft .287 in 202 at-bats, enough to give him first dibs. But don't be surprised if Eckstein ends up at shortstop, the position he has played most of his career, leaving second base to Edgar Gonzalez or prospect Matt Antonelli.

Not much to get excited about. Except Peavy, of course. When he takes the mound the Padres will be as tough to beat as any team in the NL. How long will he take the mound for them? If he makes it to opening day, check back at the trading deadline.

Next: Minnesota Twins.