Padres strongly focused on Maddux

Padres strongly focused on Maddux

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- On the opening day of the Winter Meetings, Padres general manager Kevin Towers said Monday that San Diego is in play with one future Hall of Famer -- Greg Maddux -- but probably not in the hunt for two others, Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez.

Towers, who spent most of the day on the phone laying groundwork with fellow general managers, added that the likelihood of Mike Piazza -- another future Cooperstown enshrinee -- returning to San Diego after a solid 2006 season is "pretty rare."

Piazza, whose $8 million option for 2007 was not exercised, is expected to land with an American League club as a DH and backup catcher. reported Monday that the Padres were close to a deal with Maddux that would be for either one or two years, or possibly one year with an option.

Maddux, who was 15-14 in 34 starts with the Cubs and Dodgers in 2006, reportedly is seeking a two-year deal in the $22 million range and would like to stay on the West Coast. The Dodgers are weighing various starting options, which might include Jason Schmidt, while the Padres need at least one starter and possibly two.

Discussions in the past week with agent Scott Boras lead Towers to believe Maddux, 40, could sign by the end of the meetings on Thursday.

"I think the Dodgers still have interest in Maddux," Towers said. "But if they end up signing Schmidt after signing [Randy] Wolf, I would imagine their interest wouldn't be as great with Maddux. But I don't think that [Schmidt's signing] is going to happen any time soon."

Bonds will finish his career in San Francisco, Towers is convinced. He drew parallels to the late-career decisions by Tony Gwynn and Trevor Hoffman to remain in San Diego after entertaining offers elsewhere.

"We never really got far with it," Towers said of Bonds. "We talked internally about it. I looked at Bonds' situation as similar to Gwynn and Hoffman.

"We don't want to get in a position where we're deep in negotiations and he ends up in the Bay Area. The only thing it may have done is drive the price up. I don't think it's fair to our fans to send a false message."

As for Ramirez, the run-producing machine being shopped by Boston, Towers said he hasn't spoken with Red Sox GM Theo Epstein "in the past week."

"My sense in talking to [Epstein] is we probably didn't have the match he was looking for," Towers said, shooting down rumors of Jake Peavy or Adrian Gonzalez going to Boston for Ramirez.

Towers anticipates a late signing by free-agent southpaw Barry Zito, expected to command a deal in the five-year, $80 million range as the biggest name left on the market. The Padres have given no indication they'd commit to that kind of contract for a pitcher, even one as good as Zito.

David Wells, back home in San Diego from a hunting expedition in Africa, was offered arbitration and could return to the Padres at 43 to claim a spot in the rotation.

"A lot depends on whether he feels he could get back in shape," Towers said of Wells, who won the Padres' playoff-clincher in Arizona on the final weekend of the regular season and worked Game 2 of the National League Division Series, losing to the Cardinals.

The Padres also have had discussions with a representative for free-agent left-hander Mark Mulder, who isn't expected to pitch until June after late-season shoulder surgery. Offered arbitration by St. Louis, Mulder would require two draft picks in compensation by a club signing him.

Armed with $25 million to $30 million available to spend on free agency or players acquired in trade, Towers said there is no urgency to deplete the club's resources now.

"We may end up spending only $10-to-$15 million and have $10-to-$15 million available at the [midseason trade] deadline," Towers said.

The second-base vacancy created by the shipment of Josh Barfield to Cleveland figures to be filled by Todd Walker. The left-handed hitting veteran is expected to accept salary arbitration and sign for one year in the $3 million neighborhood.

Versatile Geoff Blum, signed for $900,000, has shown he can step in capably at second base, as well as shortstop and third base.

If Walker signs elsewhere, giving the Padres two draft picks in compensation as a Type A player, the club could shift its attention to others in the free-agent market, such as Mark Loretta, Ronnie Belliard and Tony Graffanino. Loretta and Belliard would not require compensation.

Terrmel Sledge has first call in left field to replace Dave Roberts (reunited with former Padres manager Bruce Bochy in San Francisco), but Towers said the club is still seeking a right-handed corner outfielder.

One big name making the rounds is Philadelphia's Pat Burrell, whose discipline and power fit the San Diego profile. The Phillies are in pursuit of a reliever, an area where the Padres are well stocked.

"A lot of people are asking about [Scott] Linebrink," Towers said, adding that he is disinclined to break up a deep, productive bullpen that remains the club's greatest strength.

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