The Reliever Mill: San Diego Padres

Padres reliever mill heating up

The San Diego Padres have expressed an interest in adding a quality reliever or two to the back end of the rotation. Ideally they would like a setup man to bridge the gap between the starting pitching and Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman negotiations are ongoing, but should be wrapped up shortly. Remember, he was the man to hand the ball off to Tony Gwynn so he could throw the final pitch at Qualcomm.

Rod Beck is slated for departure. Beck has left no doubts that he wants a chance to close somewhere. That could come in Colorado. The Rockies have already spoken with his agent, Danny Horwits, and expressed interest. The Rockies are prepared to wait out the market and find a bargain with $53.1 million committed to six players in 2004. Beck could be that bargain as some of the games top closers play musical chairs this offseason.

The Padres may only have to look 100 miles away to find the answer. The problem: Paul Quantrill turned down his 2004 option that went for $3.1 million. Quantrill led the major leagues with 89 appearances last season and had a 1.75 earned-run average and with money expected to be tied up in other areas, such as catching and starting pitching, the Padres might be priced out despite a growing payroll.

Another guy they covet is LaTroy Hawkins, but they are not ready to get in a bidding war with the New York Yankees for his services. Hawkins was virtually unhittable in 2003. His WHIP was just 1.09 and his ERA 1.86. Hawkins has gone 15-3 over the last two years after failing as a closer.

An in house option that is trying to prove he deserves another chance is Brandon Villafuerte. After a dismal start in 2003 as the teams closer, an injury luckily cut his horrid season in the big leagues short. He settled down in Portland and was a September callup performing better and showing the form that made him effective in 2002.

The Padres are also looking for a new lefty reliever. Mark Guthrie is being explored for the role. While not having a stellar season, and known for long counts, Guthrie did have 10 holds for Chicago. He is more of a one or two batter type pitcher than someone who will work an inning and a half.

Matt Hampton will also get a look at filling the lefty reliever role. Hampton has turned in a fine Arizona Fall League and the former closer for the Paints, has only been in the Padres system for two years and is mature enough at 26 to handle the role. He had major surgery a year ago, actually slowing his progress, if that is possible.

"(The) Padres signed him out of the Frontier League and he made his affiliated debut at the Double-A level, something you rarely see," BayBears announcer Tom Nichols said of Hampton. "So he jumped from college to Double-A with just one year in the Frontier League as a bridge."

That kind of development will earn him a look this spring.

Clifford Bartosh was originally thought to be an option. Now he is a Detroit Tiger after they claimed him off waivers Friday. The Padres were so frustrated with Bartosh's lack of development, they have decided to go another direction.

Another fireplug the team should look into is right-hander Turk Wendell. Wendell is a loon, but he would fit right into the clubhouse in San Diego and provide entertainment on the mound with his nuances and superstitions. Besides his on the field animation, Wendell is a good setup man. He held opponents to a .234 batting average in 2003 and his ERA was 3.38.

The pool of available left-handed free-agent relievers also includes Steve Kline, Tom Martin, Eddie Guardado and Terry Mulholland.

Scott Linebrink and Mike Matthews appear to be the only middle reliever assured of having a role next season. Linebrink had offseason surgery after a successful 2003 campaign. Matthews is a lefty and despite not having great 2003 numbers, lefties get the benefit of the doubt in most cases. Jay Witasick could also figure into the mix, but the Friars are looking for an upgrade.

Some fans may have been expecting big money to be spent on relievers. It won't happen. They have other areas of focus that will command cash. Kevin Towers admits he is looking for a Loaiza clone for his fifth starter. If that is true, fans can't expect money to be thrown around.

"If we're not at .500 next year, we'll have made some bad moves," said Towers. "We better be .500."

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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