Padres may adjust PETCO dimensions

PETCO dimensions, free agents on agenda

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- The Padres are actively looking into a plan to move the fence in right-center field at PETCO Park from the 411 mark to something in the 395-foot range, and are hoping to get it done in time for the 2006 season.

After a long day of trade discussions at the general manager meetings that yielded nothing concrete, Padres general manager Kevin Towers said he thinks it's "better than 50-50" that something can be done in the area that has become a death valley to left-handed hitters in time for the first pitch in April.

"At the last VP meeting we had, they had some architects out there," Towers said. "It's not going to be dramatic -- cutting the 411 corner to around 395. Right field and the gap are not going to change.

"I'm for it. It's still going to be a pitcher's park. It will give some of your left-handed power hitters a chance to hit a few more home runs. That 411's big. It'll make it a little more fair. Aesthetically, it will look better, too."

Possible obstacles include cost and time. PETCO Park is staging the semifinals and finals of the inaugural World Baseball Classic on March 18-20.

"If we do it, we have to get started," Towers said. "You have to look at the costs, the time frame, can you get it done by mid-March. As far as the baseball people are concerned, we're all for it."

The Padres' main left-handed threats, Brian Giles and Ryan Klesko, have experienced their share of frustration in their home park while driving balls for outs in the vast area of center field and deepest right-center.

Giles, a free agent who can begin accepting offers from other Major League clubs on Friday after the Padres' exclusive negotiating period elapses, batted .267 at home with six homers and 31 RBIs, compared to .333 on the road, with nine homers and 52 RBIs.

The Padres have offered Giles, their Most Valuable Player in 2005 after leading the club in almost every major offensive category, a three-year deal believed to be in the $24-$25 million range.

Giles has expressed a desire to explore free agency for the first time and see what's out there. A number of clubs have expressed interest, from St. Louis and the Cubs in the NL Central to the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East, with the Indians, Giles' first club, also in the hunt.

"I've talked to his agent," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Thursday, referring to Joe Bick. New York is in the market for a center fielder and could play Giles there, or they could put him in left field if Hideki Matsui signs a new contract and moves to center.

With Larry Walker departing, Giles would be an excellent fit in St. Louis, and the Cubs and Indians also have a need for an outfielder with his multiple talents.

"I talked to Bick [Wednesday], and he said we're still Brian's main choice," Towers said. "Winning is a big thing at this point in his career. He's [34 years old], and he got a taste of the postseason this year -- and he wants to be in the playoffs every year.

"He's waiting to see what we're able to do. We're trying to do some things to make a strong enough statement to him and [closer Trevor Hoffman] that we do feel we can win again."

To that end, Towers has made it a high priority to improve the outfield defense, saying that he'd love to have two center fielders to handle PETCO's vast reaches. He feels he'll need to get it done in a trade and thinks he can get something done before the Winter Meetings in Dallas in early December.

"We're down the line in discussions that could bring us an outfielder," Towers said.

Names that have come up in the rumor mill include the Mets' Mike Cameron, the Devil Rays' Carl Crawford, the Marlins' Juan Pierre and the Rangers' Laynce Nix, swift outfielders capable of running down balls in the gaps.

While refusing to get into any specifics, Towers said, "We need to get much more outfield athleticism. In our ballpark, the emphasis is on defense as much as offense in a center fielder. You really have to have somebody who can go get it.

"Dave Roberts did a nice job. Our focus is, we'd like to have at least two center fielders in our outfield -- probably in right and center."

Towers feels that Ben Johnson and Xavier Nady both have the skills to play right.

As for Klesko, who played left field most of the season with Roberts in center and Giles in right, Towers said, "We're probably looking at him more at first base. I'd say there's a good chance he'll be with us. He had a down year, but did lead our team in home runs [with 18]. He'll let his shoulder and neck rest. When healthy, he's a legitimate 3-4-5 hitter."

As for reports of interest in starter Adam Eaton, Towers said, "He's always been asked about. He's got a great arm, and is a good athlete who fields his position well and swings the bat. We're not shopping him. There's a better than even chance he'll be back with us.

"I've always gone into these meetings with the idea that nobody's untouchable. We had a club ask about [Jake] Peavy. You're gathering information here, finding out who they like and don't like. That's part of the preparation, being able to act when you have to."

Towers said the club has made no offers to their seven free agents besides Hoffman and Giles, but will get started soon assessing needs.

As for free-agent catcher Kenji Jomina, a seven-time Gold Glove winner in Japan with power in his right-handed bat, club officials said they'd received "mixed reports" and were not sure they'd be moving in that direction as a replacement for Ramon Hernandez, expected to depart as a free agent.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.