We all know if this team wants to win now and in the future we need a player like Adrian Gonzalez for the long haul. Could the Padres somehow work a contract out that pays him $15 million a season but defers some of the payments until after the contract expires? That would keep him here and gives us room to sign and grow other players.
-- Kris K., Alta Loma, Calif.

It's a fair question, Kris. But remember, there are two sides to consider here. This isn't merely a Padres issue and how much they're willing or not willing to pay Gonzalez to keep him in San Diego beyond his current and very affordable contract that ends after 2011. A recent story painted a grim picture for Gonzalez's long-term stay here, though that could certainly change. Remember, this is a team that will head to Spring Training with a payroll slightly less than $40 million. I doubt the Padres will hand a big contract to Gonzalez if they feel it lessens the likelihood of keeping the rest of the roster intact or hamstrings them during free agency. Also, there's no reason to think Gonzalez would take a discounted deal to stay here. This will be interesting to watch moving forward.

I agree that Jerry Hairston was a fine pickup for the reasons you have stated (defense, versatility, occasional bat), his contract seems like a luxury, especially for a team where the starting third baseman, shortstop and second baseman have a combined lesser salary than him. It would seem the money would be better saved for next season, where it could help buy a more long-term solution at second base or catcher.
-- Jake S., Ottawa

The Padres aren't really thinking in terms of "next" season right now, nor have they been during the offseason. They're focused on winning this season and that's why they spent the way they did to land Hariston. I wouldn't read too much into what they're paying him ($2.152 million) against what Chase Headley, Everth Cabrera and David Eckstein will make. Headley and Cabrera are under team control and Eckstein will make $1 million. I think the Padres got a relative steal in Hairston, in terms of what they're going to get from him in '10, a guy who can play all over the diamond and offer average to plus defense as key positions (shortstop and the outfield).

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Question:

The recent list of top 50 prospects published on MLB.com had one Padres player on it (outfielder Jaff Decker). Who are some other Padres prospects we should keep our eye on that have the potential to make that list next year?
-- J.M., Mission Valley, Calif.

If it were me, I would have had pitcher Simon Castro and third baseman James Darnell on the list as well as Decker. Castro, a right-hander, was honored as the Padres Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Castro won 10 games for Class A Fort Wayne and has a big fastball that touches 94-95 mph. He also has a plus slider and is working on his changeup. Darnell hit a combined .311 with 20 homers and 81 RBIs at two Minor League stops. He's athletic and has power, good plate discipline and good makeup. Darnell is considered a little bit more athletic than fellow third-base prospect Logan Forsythe.

How do you think new catcher Yorvit Torrealba will help the Padres?
-- Christian S., San Diego

First and foremost, Torrealba will give depth to the catching position, something the team wanted to address this winter. By signing Torrealba, the Padres receive a catcher who has plenty of Major League experience and postseason experience and has a reputation for working well with pitchers. He was also a very good clubhouse guy with Colorado, and I imagine he'll be that here as well and serve as a good mentor to Latin American players. The position is such where injuries and simply "getting beat up" are not uncommon. It's hard for a catcher to stay healthy the entire season. Torrealba allows the Padres to have another catcher to lean on so they're not dependent on a Minor League catcher in case of injuries, etc.

Who is/are going to be are long reliever(s) this season?
-- John G., Mira Mesa, Calif.

The competition should be tough in Spring Training for a job that essentially belonged to Edward Mujica last season. Mujica is back, and like another candidate, Sean Gallagher, he's out of Minor League options, so he needs to make the team or the Padres risk losing them. A guy I like is Radhames Liz, the pitcher the Padres claimed off waivers from the Orioles. The guy has a big arm and could stick as a long reliever.