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12/05/11 8:10 PM EST

Padres to be prudent in search for closer

DALLAS -- On the day three-time All-Star closer Heath Bell officially became a member of the Marlins, Padres general manager Josh Byrnes reiterated to reporters that the team's primary need is finding Bell's replacement.

"It's definitely the focus," Byrnes said.

Byrnes also indicated that the Padres won't overpay in terms of the length of a contract if the team chooses to go the free-agent route in pursuit of Bell's replacement.

"We're not going to offer anyone a three-year deal," Byrnes said of free-agent pitchers -- starters or relievers.

Byrnes, in his first Winter Meetings as general manager of the Padres, didn't feel that not going more than two years to find a replacement for Bell -- who has the most saves of any reliever since 2009 -- would be a tricky issue.

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"We feel like there are a lot of choices," said Byrnes, noting that he and his staff met for hours late Sunday to prioritize their list of potential late-inning options.

On Monday, Byrnes had what he considered a productive day, talking with agents of free agents as well as other general managers regarding trades that might fit the Padres.

"A little more with teams," Byrnes said when asked if he met more with teams or agents. "It's been a productive day as far as moving forward on a lot of ideas."

One of which, of course, is the closer spot.

A year ago at this time, the Padres boasted what was likely the best 1-2 punch at the back of their bullpen in eighth-inning specialist Mike Adams and Bell. But Adams was traded to the Rangers on July 31 while Bell's deal with the Marlins is now official, a contract that's for three years (with a vesting option for a fourth) and worth $27 million.

Bell said that he hadn't spoken to Byrnes since he was hired to replace Jed Hoyer -- who now holds the same post with the Cubs -- in October. But Byrnes did have discussions at the General Managers Meetings last month with Bell's agent, Seth Levinson.

The Padres were prepared to offer Bell two years and likely around the $9 million per year that he received from the Marlins, though a third year was never going to happen.

"The market proved to be pretty lucrative [for Bell]," Byrnes said.

So where do the Padres turn next in their pursuit of a closer and someone who can handle the eighth inning with aplomb? Byrnes said the candidates are essentially all external.

The internal preference is for pitchers who have a history at pitching at the back end of a bullpen. Before Bell became the Padres' closer in 2009, he set up Trevor Hoffman for two seasons. And Bell had over 100 Minor League saves by the time he got to San Diego.

"There's a number of guys out on the market and also, I think, a guy or two available in trades that have closed games in the big leagues," said San Diego manager Bud Black, who is also attending these Meetings at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas.

"We're exploring those options."

One of those options might be Oakland A's closer Andrew Bailey, whom the Padres have been linked to. Bailey, a two-time All-Star, has saved 75 games in his first three Major League seasons. That Bailey, 27, is arbitration-eligible would also rank as attractive to the Padres.

Matt Capps, who could have been a potential fit for the Padres, fell off the board during the first day of the Meetings. Capps re-signed with the Twins for one year and an option for 2013.

With Bell's money coming off the books -- the team offered him arbitration and he stood to make $10 million or so in 2012 had he accepted -- Byrnes indicated that the Padres do have more financial wiggle room.

They're just not going to be frivolous with it.

"We're usually militant in the number of years we give out," Byrnes said.

Black, a former pitcher himself, would certainly like to fill out his bullpen with arms that are capable of handling what he considers to be very tough jobs.

"They're both important. Really, they go hand in hand in this day and age," Black said of having a successful eighth-inning specialist and closer. "I think you need a complement of guys nowadays to close out a game."

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