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Caution expected at Winter Meetings

Caution expected for Padres at Winter Meetings

SAN DIEGO -- There's a good chance that Padres general manager Kevin Towers doesn't wince with every passing free-agent signing, though he probably shudders a little in disbelief at the way the market is going.

Alex Rodriguez: 10 years, $275 million. Torii Hunter: five years, $90 million. Mike Lowell: three years, $27.5 million. Heck, even Scott Linebrink -- yes, that Scott Linebrink -- is reportedly set to make $19 million over four years.

"Looking at the landscape, it's not just the dollars, but the terms that have scared us off," Towers said on Monday. "I think we have taken the approach where we will sit back and sift through it a little bit. We don't see the values in these signings."

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In other words, don't expect Towers -- a week removed from heading to Nashville, Tenn., for the Winter Meetings -- to jump headfirst into the free-agent market much, if at all, during the offseason.

If the Padres are to improve on their third-place finish in the fast-rising National League West, they'll likely do it by conventional means -- trades.

"We've been more active in trade discussions," Towers said. "We have always had more success with trades than free agency. Free agency is such an unknown. There are no guarantees. That's why I like to look at my trade options first."

That's not to say the Padres won't try to entice free agents to PETCO Park, though the prospect of luring a free-agent pitcher is more likely than that of a position player if for no other reason than the stadium's spacious dimensions are better suited to pitchers.

Pursuing starting pitching to help round out a rotation that already includes a Cy Young Award winner (Jake Peavy), a 300-game winner (Greg Maddux) and another pitcher who's considered to be one of the league's elite (Chris Young) is one of many things Towers will pursue.

"I would say outfield is probably No. 1 [priority], and we probably need two starting pitchers, a [backup] catcher and if the right seventh-inning arm is out there, we will look at that," Towers said. "So in that order is what we're looking at."

The first order of business for the Padres will come before Towers and the team's contingent of front-office personnel head to Nashville on Monday. By Saturday, the team must decide which of its free agents will be offered salary arbitration.

Winter Meetings

By doing so, teams ensure that they will receive compensatory Draft picks if those free agents sign with other teams. The Padres are likely to offer arbitration to catcher Michael Barrett (a Type A free agent) in order to receive two Draft picks. They will offer outfielder Mike Cameron, a Type B free agent, as well.

Cameron's agent, Mike Nicotera, said on Wednesday that he will likely refuse the Padres offer of arbitration, meaning the team would get a compensatory Draft pick if Cameron signs elsewhere.

Towers said the "trickier" choice will be outfielder Milton Bradley, another Type A free agent. Bradley will miss part of the upcoming season after tearing his the ACL in his right knee in the final week of the 2007 regular season.

Either way, the Padres -- who won 89 games in 2007 and missed the playoffs by one victory -- could have a handful of new faces in the starting lineup and in the rotation when they open the regular season on March 31 against the Astros.

One free agent the Padres are very high on is outfielder Geoff Jenkins, who hit .255 with 21 home runs and 64 RBIs in 132 games despite being in a platoon situation with Kevin Mench. Jenkins, a left-handed hitter, could be a nice fit at PETCO Park, which can be unforgiving to hitters.

"The Padres are very much on Geoff's radar and we consider them a very viable contender," said Jenkins' agent, Damon Lapa on Monday.

Apparently, he's very much on their radar, as Jenkins met with Towers, manager Bud Black and even CEO Sandy Alderson on Tuesday.

Another option is possible Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome. The 30-year-old, who projects more as a corner outfielder, was once scouted by Towers as a high school player.

If Fukudome lands in the Major Leagues, he could earn in upwards of $12-14 million a year. And he's a player who fits the Padres mold -- gap power, patience and a good on-base percentage.

The Padres figure to make a run at former Braves center fielder Andruw Jones, though only on a loaded one-year deal to entice a player to PETCO Park, a stadium that he has essentially turned into his own personal playpen (.393, nine home runs, 21 RBIs in just 15 games).

But his agent, Scott Boras, said recently that he does not expect Jones to sign a one-year deal.

On the pitching front, the Padres re-signed Maddux to a one-year deal worth $10 million last week, which would give them a formidable 1-2-3 trio at the top of their rotation along with Peavy and Young.

The Padres are looking to fill the back end of the rotation and will likely turn to a handful of pitchers who are coming off injuries but are now healthy, Towers said. That group includes Jon Lieber, Randy Wolf, Matt Clement, Jason Jennings and Bartolo Colon.

Clement, who started his career with the Padres, has drawn significant interest, though he could end up in San Diego, where he already has a strong relationship with Towers and other players and team personnel. Clement hasn't pitched in the Major Leagues since 2006 after having surgery last season on his right shoulder.

"They indicated potential interest there and said that Matt might be an interesting possibility in that regard," said Clement's agent, Barry Axelrod. "Coming the other way, Matt has an interest in the Padres."

• Towers also said Monday that the team will stay with Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base next season and that rookie third baseman Chase Headley, the MVP of the Texas League, will likely take fly balls this winter to see how he takes to the outfield. "After last year, it's kind of hard to move Kouz," Towers said.

• Towers said the Padres are still committed to going the internal route at second base, though he left the door open a little, saying that the team won't likely look to add a veteran second baseman "unless we strike out with outfielders."

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

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