DALLAS -- There's a dry-erase board propped up in the middle of the Padres' suite here at the Hilton Anatole with names of players the team is targeting, either as free agents or ones who might be available through trade.
There are names on that list that could very well hold the key to the 2012 season or, more likely, names that could potentially help the Padres improve upon their 91-loss campaign this past season.
This board only holds minimal interest to Chad MacDonald and Jaron Madison, two key members of the Padres front office who have an entirely different board in mind, even at this time of the season -- their Draft board.
MacDonald was hired last month as the Padres' vice president and assistant manager of player personnel. He will oversee amateur scouting while Madison is entering his third season as the scouting director.
While the Padres go about seeking improvements for their 25-man roster for 2012, both MacDonald and Madison are already well into preparations for June's First-Year Player Draft, a Draft they hope can be as bountiful as the one this past June.
The Padres will likely have six picks in the top 70 or so overall selections with the team receiving two additional picks for Heath Bell (signed with the Marlins on Monday), one additional pick if Aaron Harang's reported deal with the Dodgers becomes official and one for not signing prep catcher Brett Austin (54th overall last June).
A year ago, the Padres had five of the top 58 overall picks. The team signed four of the players, a class that earned rave reviews from many in the industry, especially after the team convinced catcher Austin Hedges to spurn UCLA and sign with the team.
The Padres signed 22 of their top 23 picks this year and spent a little over $11 million on their entire 35-player Draft class.
"I give all the credit to our area scouts," Madison said. "To get Hedges at [the 84th overall pick] isn't too bad."
Even with the recent changes in the collective-bargaining agreement that stipulate a team will have a specified amount of money to use on Draft picks depending on its win-loss record, the Padres are optimistic about another potentially big haul of talent.
"We're definitely excited about the opportunity to draft guys high again," Madison said. "This Draft is maybe not as strong as last year, but it's still a good crop ... and maybe a deeper crop.
"With all of those extra picks, we'll be in great shape."
MacDonald spent last season with the Mets as their amateur scouting director. He is no stranger to Padres general manager Josh Byrnes, having spent two seasons in Arizona as the D-backs' director of international scouting from 2008-10.
From 2006-2008, MacDonald was Arizona's assistant director of scouting. Byrnes served as the D-backs' GM from 2005-10.
MacDonald has spent the past month or so getting to know Madison. Four days in Dallas at these Winter Meetings have certainly helped in that regard.
"The relationship is off to a good start," Macdonald said. "I've watched Jaron from afar and have always had an appreciation for the job he's done."
MacDonald and Madison are already watching video, going over scouting reports and having scouts spend time with potential Draft picks and their families.
"With the extra picks, every player is in play now," Macdonald said. "Not only are those picks important, but getting them right is really important."
Earlier Tuesday, the Padres signed right-handed pitcher Dale Thayer to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League camp.
Thayer, who turns 31 on Dec. 17, was originally signed by the Padres in 2002 as a non-drafted free agent. He's 0-3 with a 5.88 ERA in 23 games over two seasons with the Rays (2009-10) and Mets (2011).
"We'd like to have as much depth and competition as we can," Byrnes said when asked about Thayer, who throws from a lower arm slot with a 93-94 mph fastball that can give right-handed hitters fits.
Thayer had a 3.48 ERA over 10 1/3 innings with the Mets last season and did most of his work with their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, going 4-3 with a 2.66 ERA. Thayer has been a reliever his entire professional career.
The Padres continued talks with agents and other teams Tuesday, though Byrnes said the progression was not nearly as good at it was Monday.
"We've at least pushed [ahead] on some ideas," he said. "Sometimes, you get pushed to a 'no.'"
The high priority for the Padres remains the closer spot. The team has had talks with the A's about Andrew Bailey and the Rockies about Huston Street, though they're not very interested in parting with any of their top Minor League talent.
Byrnes did indicate the Padres would have a scout in Texas next week to watch reliever Joel Zumaya throw. Zumaya, a native of Chula Vista, which is south of San Diego, did not pitch in 2011 while recovering from exploratory surgery on his troubled right elbow in May.