A day after opening their checkbook for a club-record deal worth around $50 million that will keep pitcher Jake Peavy in San Diego through 2011, the Padres are said to be serious contenders for Japanese free-agent outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, according to a handful of baseball sources.
The Padres have been on Fukudome for a while. Towers first saw him years ago while was scouting in Japan. The team has been careful in not tipping its hand, although it makes no bones in trying to disguise how impressed they are with his bat (career .397 on-base percentage) and his Gold Glove-type defense.
Fukudome, who projects as a corner outfielder but can play center field, is attracting a lot of attention at these Winter Meetings, especially from the Cubs, Dodgers and White Sox.
"I can only say that there are a number of clubs involved," said Fukudome's agent, Joe Urbon, who is not in Nashville this week, but is still talking with teams by telephone. "I hope to have this process narrowed down to a manageable few teams by the end of the week."
One caveat: Fukudome hasn't officially said he'll play in the Major Leagues next season, as the Tokyo Giants have made an offer of four years and $20 million.
"The point isn't to draw this out," Urbon said. "Two countries want to know."
The Padres are still very much in on free-agent outfielder Geoff Jenkins, who had dinner in San Diego last week with Towers and met with manager Bud Black and CEO Sandy Alderson.
Jenkins' agent, Damon Lapa, hopes to meet with Towers again at some point before the end of the Winter Meetings on Thursday.
"I'm sure we are going to have contact at some point again," said Lapa, who arrived in Nashville on Monday. "It sounds like they have a few irons in the fire at this point. We are in a wait-and-see mode. But San Diego meets a lot of our internal criteria."
Towers met with Mike Nicotera, the agent for Mike Cameron, on Monday. Towers said that he still thinks Cameron will turn down the offer of arbitration that the Padres made on Saturday.
"We met to find out what they'll do Friday," Towers said of the deadline for when free agents who were offered arbitration have to tell their previous teams if they'll accept or not. "My sense is they don't accept."
The Padres are also said to be looking at Cardinals veteran outfielder Jim Edmonds and former Angels and White Sox outfielder Darin Erstad, who played in Anaheim when Black was a pitching coach there.
Even with the impending signing of lefty Randy Wolf, the Padres are still pursuing starting pitching for a rotation that already includes Cy Young winner Peavy, Greg Maddux, Chris Young and now Wolf.
Prior addition: The Padres like Cubs pitcher Mark Prior -- a lot. The problem is Prior is still property of the Cubs, until Dec. 12, when they must decide whether to offer him contract or not. Prior won't be able to pitch until May after missing all of last season because of shoulder surgery.
"I've always been able to make deals with Jim," Towers said of Cubs general manager Jim Hendry.
Peavy deal: Towers said the contract extension with Peavy is all but done, though it won't likely be officially announced until later on this week or possibly next week.
"To me, it's down to dotting the I's and crossing the T's," Towers said of the contract he and Peavy's agent, Barry Axelrod, have been working on since July.
Peavy's deal will be a three-year extension that will guarantee him nearly $17 million per season in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The deal also includes a club option for the 2013 season.
Peavy still needs to pass a physical, but that's considered a formality at this point. Towers said both sides made concessions, but, ultimately, he thinks it's a fair deal.
"I think both sides are happy," Towers said. "I think all along he wanted to stay here. This guy is talked about as one of the best pitchers in the game."
Antonelli it for now: The Padres haven't completely ruled out signing a veteran second baseman, but if the season started today, rookie Matt Antonelli would be the starter there with several other in-house candidates (Craig Stansberry, Oscar Robles and Edgar Gonzalez) getting consideration.
Free agent Mark Loretta, the former Padres infielder, has expressed an interest in returning to San Diego though that's unlikely to happen at this point. Loretta was offered arbitration by Houston last week, though the recent signing of Kaz Matsui has left him without a job.
"We're keeping an open mind," Towers said. "If we don't feel [Antonelli's] ready, we will start him off at Triple-A."
Piazza time? It's been reported that the Padres have an interest in bringing back catcher Mike Piazza on a one-year deal if free agent Michael Barrett declines arbitration, although Towers expects Barrett to accept arbitration and sign a one-year deal worth roughly $4 million to serve as Josh Bard's backup.