Padres moves at Meetings depend on Bell
Closer weighing arbitration; decision affects club's flexibility
SAN DIEGO -- Since he was hired to replace Jed Hoyer in late October, Padres general manager Josh Byrnes has signed his first free agent (outfielder Mark Kotsay) and made his first trade (catcher John Baker).
Could Byrnes, who was never gun shy when it came to making deals when he was the GM of the D-backs, make his next significant move at baseball's annual Winter Meetings, which will be held Dec. 5-8 in Dallas?
That's always possible, though Byrnes and the Padres are handcuffed to some extent -- not so much by a payroll that figures to run about $53 million for 2012, but much more immediately by Heath Bell's decision about salary arbitration.
The Padres have offered Bell, the three-time All-Star who pegs as a Type A free agent, arbitration, though Bell has said he's in no hurry to make a decision.
Bell has until 8:59 p.m. PT on Dec. 7 to decide whether to accept the offer. If he does, the Padres and Bell are bound to a one-year contract for 2012 at a salary which will be much higher than the $7.5 million he made last season.
With Bell, the Padres will have less wiggle room to work with as Byrnes goes about the task of constructing a roster for next season. Without Bell -- and the Padres will happily take two Draft picks if he signs with another team -- the team will have more money to work with.
"Obviously, the Heath Bell situation will affect us a lot. If he doesn't accept [arbitration], we'll have more money," Byrnes said recently. "... Right now, things are moving a little slower until we know what happens with Heath."
The Padres will also keep an eye on what decision pitcher Aaron Harang makes. Harang pegs as a Type B free agent. Like Bell, the Padres have offered Harang arbitration. So if he turns down the Padres' arbitration offer and signs a deal elsewhere, the Padres receive one Draft pick in the supplemental round.
Once Byrnes has some clarity on what Bell, and to a lesser extent Harang, will do, he'll continue to try and add pieces to a team that lost 91 games last season. He's looking for late-inning relief options -- even if Bell returns -- and also options for the bench to give manager Bud Black more options than he had a year ago.
The recent additions of Kotsay and Baker filled a couple of needs -- both are left-handed hitters. Kotsay, the Padres feel, can help off the bench as an outfielder and can play some first base in a pinch. The Padres also feel he'll be a positive clubhouse presence.
One of Byrnes' primary goals this offseason is to improve the offense, especially against right-handed pitching.
Last season, the Padres ranked last in the Major Leagues in batting average against right-handers (.229), 29th in on-base percentage (.301) and 30th in slugging (.340). The Padres also ranked 28th in baseball in pinch-hitting (.161).
The Padres also wanted to improve their depth at catcher. Nick Hundley, who the Padres are very high on, missed 63 games last season with two disabled-list stints. Baker figures to improve the depth at that position and give the Padres the production they missed a year ago when Hundley was injured.
There's speculation that the Padres might try to trade either shortstop Jason Bartlett or second baseman Orlando Hudson this winter. Both will make $5.5 million next season and with Everth Cabrera a potential fit at either position, the Padres could create some more wiggle room financially by dealing one or the other, though Bartlett did provide stability at a critical position in 2011 and the team might be less inclined to trade him.
Could the Padres potentially swap Hudson and his contract -- he's owed a total of $7.5 million with a $2 million buyout for 2013 -- for a comparable contract? The Colorado Rockies have had some internal discussions about Hudson. The Padres could possibly have interest in closer Huston Street ($7.5 million in 2012) if Bell declines arbitration.