Friars in search of lefty bat for bench
Club hopes to find right match in slow moving free-agent market
SAN DIEGO -- As he was a year ago at this time, Padres general manager Kevin Towers finds himself looking for the final piece to the roster -- a veteran position player who hits from the left side.
Towers eventually signed his man last year, Tony Clark, but only in the days leading up to Spring Training. It might take him as long to do so again this year, though it won't be for lack of inventory.
Just over two weeks before the Padres report to Arizona, there are nearly 100 free agents available in a slow-moving market, which might help the budget-minded Padres, as they are hoping to find a bargain or two before they head to Peoria.
"We're waiting around until the first week of February," Towers said recently. "... I think there are quite a few teams in the same position as us."
Towers said this week that he wants to add a left-handed bat since the Padres are already "pretty right-handed." He wouldn't rule out other additions, but as of now he's actively seeking a left-handed bat.
Some left-handed position players on the market include Brad Wilkerson, Luis Gonzalez, Daryle Ward, Mark Sweeney and Doug Mientkiewicz. Sweeney has played in San Diego on three separate occasions (1997-98, 2002 and '05).
The Padres' bench figures to include infielder Edgar Gonzalez, who can play second base, shortstop and even the outfield in a pinch. But Gonzalez's playing time could feel the squeeze from the recent addition of infielder Chris Burke, who is a non-roster invitee but a player Towers likes a lot.
"I do see Burke on the club," Towers said, noting Burke can play the infield and outfield.
"He's a scrappy player who runs well and he's a solid defender," Towers said. "He has played behind [Craig] Biggio in Houston and [Orlando] Hudson in Arizona. I don't know if he's ever really gotten a chance to show what he can do."
Burke, also 28, played six positions last season with Arizona and hit .194 over 86 games, and Towers thinks he is a much better hitter than that and that moving around as much as he did never allowed Burke to get comfortable.
Towers likes the fact that Burke is a right-handed hitter and has mashed left-handed pitching to the tune of 50 points higher (.274) than right-handed pitchers. Towers indicated that he wouldn't rule out the possibility of Burke playing the outfield, especially against a tough left-handed pitcher.
Rookie Everth Cabrera, selected in December's Rule 5 Draft, will likely make the team as well. Cabrera offers the Padres something they have very little of -- speed -- as well as a lot of upside, though he's only 22 and hasn't played above the Class A level.
"He's got tremendous speed, he's a great defender and is a guy who can make things happen on the basepaths," Towers said. "I like him."
Travis Denker, a second baseman the Padres claimed off waivers from the Giants in October, could challenge for a spot on the team. He might be a long shot with the glut of middle-infield types already on the roster.
In the outfield, Scott Hairston figures to be the primary backup, spelling Chase Headley in left field and Jody Gerut in center field. Wil Venable figures to have a chance to make the team as well. That Burke can play the outfield could mean the Padres might choose to keep Hairston as their lone true reserve outfielder.
Either way, Towers wants to make sure he gives third-year manager Bud Black enough options to work with.
"When you play a 162-game schedule, guys end up missing time because of injuries and things," Towers said. "We have always put a strong emphasis on the bench."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.