Padres already dealing as Winter Meetings draw closer
General manager Byrnes brings in Smith from A's, filling need for lefty bat
SAN DIEGO -- In recent years, and for whatever reason, general manager Josh Byrnes has done most of his offseason shaping of the roster after the annual Winter Meetings.
In December 2011, Byrnes traded pitcher Mat Latos to the Reds for four players. Nearly two weeks later, he landed outfielder Carlos Quentin from the White Sox. Not long thereafter, on Jan. 6, he acquired pitcher Andrew Cashner from the Cubs.
That trend won't continue this year, though.
It's already been a busy offseason for the Padres, who on Tuesday traded reliever Luke Gregerson to the A's for outfielder Seth Smith, targeting their biggest offseason need -- finding a left-handed hitter to combat their woes against right-handed pitching.
The trade comes on the heels of a deal made earlier this month when the Padres signed free-agent pitcher Josh Johnson.
Is it possible that the Padres could be done with their roster reconstruction by the end of the Winter Meetings, which will be held in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., from Monday to Thursday? Heck, could they be done before they even get there?
At this point the Padres are still targeting a left-handed reliever and could make more moves to improve the roster but, at the very least, they've addressed two areas they wanted to, and they did so early.
"We've been after a few guys and have had productive conversations," Byrnes said on Saturday. "It's hard to always know when you'll get to a deal you like, but we're pretty optimistic we'll get something done. We have lined it up in a few places where it could make sense."
The Padres have already started shaping their roster for 2014. On Nov. 20 the team signed Johnson to a one-year deal worth $8 million -- banking that the right-hander can return to the form he showed during his time with the Marlins, when he was a two-time All-Star who in 2010 led the league in ERA (2.30).
The Johnson signing served two important purposes. It not only gave the Padres the deepest stable of starting pitchers they've had in a long time, it fueled speculation that the team could move one of its rotation candidates to land that left-handed bat.
But on Tuesday they parted with Gregerson to get Smith, a left-handed hitter who has a slash line of .279/.357/.487 for his career against right-handed pitching.
In 2013 the Padres ranked 25th in baseball with a .241 average against right-handed pitching and 29th in OPS (.668) against righties.
The Padres will continue to look for a left-handed reliever, especially since they have jettisoned three since the Trade Deadline: Joe Thatcher (trade, D-backs), Colt Hynes (designated for assignment, then traded to the Indians) and Tommy Layne (designated for assignment).
"That's more of a mixed bag of trades and free agents," Byrnes said. "We feel like we'll end up with a guy we like, but we've still got some work to do."
The Padres landed Smith without moving any Minor League prospects, though there could still be deals to be had -- and prospects to move in order to improve the roster.
With the addition of Johnson, the team could move pitchers Robbie Erlin, Burch Smith or Keyvius Sampson in a deal to get the bat it needs. Erlin and Smith impressed in September, and Sampson had a big season with Double-A San Antonio before posting a 0.79 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.
But, as Byrnes said, the Padres are getting hits from other teams on several players -- not just the three aforementioned pitchers. And that's a good thing, he said.
"What's probably good about our roster and where our talent lies is [that] there's depth, and that allows us to match up in a trade with a lot of teams," Byrnes said. "[In] a lot of these conversations, players being asked about on our side are not redundant."
About the only Minor League prospects who won't be available are catcher Austin Hedges, and pitchers Max Fried and Matt Wisler. Hedges, the Padres' No. 2 prospect as ranked by MLB.com, is considered one of the top catching prospects in professional baseball.
To be sure, it's already been an interesting few weeks for the Padres, who are coming off their second consecutive 76-86 season and looking to improve in the National League West.