Walker inclined to return to Padres

Walker leaning toward returning to Padres

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Padres feel they have secured their second baseman with Todd Walker apparently accepting salary arbitration, but they are not closing the door on a return to San Diego by Mark Loretta.

"It sounds as if Walker's going to accept," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said Wednesday night at the Winter Meetings. "He has until midnight [ET Thursday]. I talked with his agent, and he said [Walker] is going to be inclined to accept.

"Of the guys out there, he's probably one of the best offensive players."

Walker, 33, appeared in 44 games for the Padres in 2006 after arriving at the trade deadline in a swap with the Cubs, batting .282 with .366 on-base and .419 slugging marks. He had three homers and 13 RBIs in 124 at-bats.

Walker, a left-handed hitter who also can play third and first, finished with nine homers total -- his lowest output since 2000 -- and 53 RBIs, batting .278. He is a .289 career hitter with .349 on-base and .419 slugging percentages across 11 seasons.

Towers had a phone conversation Wednesday with Loretta, the Padres' highly productive second baseman from 2003 through 2005.

A free agent, Loretta flourished for the Red Sox in 2006, starting the All-Star Game for the American League after the Padres dealt him to Boston for Doug Mirabelli at the 2005 Winter Meetings.

Loretta could give San Diego a right-handed bat with the ability to play multiple positions -- or compete for the second-base job with Walker, given the opportunity.

"I guess there's still a chance," Towers said, asked if the Padres might sign the popular Loretta. "It's probably less likely. Lo has played third, short and first as well as second, and he's a right-handed bat, which would be a plus with all our left-handed hitters.

"Talking to him, he's going to exhaust all his options for a regular job."

Towers has spent most of his time trying to nail down the free-agent signing of Greg Maddux, expected to be finalized Monday.

"Once that's done, we'll start to look at the remaining free agents and prioritize those guys," Towers said.

Towers indicated that it was unlikely the Padres would depart the Winter Meetings with any more activity, but more moves could be forthcoming.

"I wouldn't say we're close to any deals we've discussed," he said. "A lot of people feel they have to use the three or four days here to do a deal, but we've laid a lot of groundwork with agents and teams.

"We'll go back home in a little more relaxed environment and have follow-up conversations. I think you'll see more deals after the meetings."

Asked to identify what those Padres additions might be, Towers said, "Maybe another utility player, maybe one more [starting pitcher], maybe an outfielder."

Terrmel Sledge is the early favorite to replace Dave Roberts in left field, with newcomer Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base.

The club has determined that with Mike Piazza electing to sign with the A's, Josh Bard and Rob Bowen will handle the catching duties.

"We carried three last year to give Mike protection," Towers said. "If Mike left, we'd probably go with just two."

The signing of left-handed reliever Alan Embree by Oakland will give the Padres an additional compensation draft pick in the First-Year Player Draft to go with the two picks each they will receive as a result of San Francisco and Houston signing Type A free agents Roberts and Woody Williams, respectively.

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