Centerfield and a trade

Padres talk centerfield

The theme is centerfield for the San Diego Padres. It is like the opening of an amusement park as the team waits for its first ride. The problem management fears is it will be a wild ride and they forgot to install the safety seats. Corner outfielders – they have that covered in abundance, but actual centerfielders is a luxury they are not sure they cannot afford as they move into a new ballpark.

The size of the right-center pasture in the Padres' new home is a concern for the club, which last week traded one bona fide center fielder (Mark Kotsay to Oakland for catcher Ramon Hernandez and outfielder Terrence Long) and waived another (Gary Matthews Jr.).

As it stands right now, the Padres lack a true center fielder. And general manager Kevin Towers likens the spacious right-center pasture at Petco Park to that of Pac Bell Park in San Francisco.

"It's going to be hard to hit the ball out in right-center, but there's a lot of territory to cover in center and right," said Towers.

As it stands now, the Padres' best candidate to play center is Brian Giles, who was projected to be in left until Kotsay was traded. The current alternate on the roster is Long. And the incumbent corner outfielders -- Ryan Klesko and Xavier Nady -- aren't speed merchants.

Which explains why the Padres have already signed Brian Hunter and Gene Kingsale to minor league contracts, have expressed interest in signing free agents Kenny Lofton, Mike Cameron and have talked to the Minnesota Twins regarding San Diego native Jacque Jones.

All can play center.

The Padres believe Lofton might be had for as little as $1-1.5 million and offered him a contract Monday. Rumors have the Yankees are also in the running so that small sum may be enough to make the agent for Lofton laugh in the Padres face.

Gold Glover Cameron might take four to five times that.

Lofton, 36, hit .296, hit 12 homers and scored 97 runs last season with the Pirates and Cubs. Cameron hit .253 hit .253 for Seattle last year with 18 homers and 76 RBI and is considered a far superior fielder to Lofton.

Lofton would be the true centerfielder the team craves.

"We just hope he wants to play in the National League, and hopefully he wants to be on the West Coast," Towers said.

If a deal isn't done, Towers has said he'll go to spring training planning to tandem Giles and Long in center.

If Lofton does arrive on the scene, the team will look into trading one of its surplus outfielders for relief or starting pitching. One destination of interest may be Montreal who passed up on even offering arbitration to Vladimir Guerrero.

The number of games Terrence Long started in center field last year with Oakland is zero (0).
The number of games Brian Giles started in center for the Padres and Pirates last year is zero (0).
Games in center started last year by players no longer with the Padres (162) -- Mark Kotsay (124), Gary Matthews Jr. (26), Shane Victorino (9), Jason Bay (3).

Note:

The Padres are working on a trade that would send infielder Dave Hansen to the San Francisco Giants for left-hander Jason Christiansen. Money considerations are among the holdups as Christiansen is due a hefty sum in 2004.

Check out the latest Padres Prospect Reports at: http://padres.theinsiders.com/3/ProspectReports.html

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