Padres make few changes to 4th-place team

The 2013 San Diego Padres look almost exactly like the 2012

version that finished fourth in the NL West, 18 games behind the

World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Many fans don’t think that’s a good thing. They expected the

owners, including four members of the third generation of the

O’Malley family, to make a big splash to pump up a team with an

underwhelming rotation and a lineup already affected by injuries

and a PED suspension.

It didn’t help that the previous owners made off with the bulk

of the $200 million upfront fee paid by Fox Sports San Diego as

part of a 20-year, $1.2 billion TV deal.

The new owners, though, felt that barely making a ripple was the

right way to begin their stewardship, even though the Padres are

coming off their fourth losing record in five seasons.

”I hope the descriptions of our team as a sleeper that will

compete effectively is accurate, because we think it is,”

executive chairman Ron Fowler said

Fowler is the control person in a group that includes former

Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley’s sons Kevin and Brian, and nephews

Peter and Tom Seidler.

”We will make prudent long-term decisions, but to come in and

make a splash for the sake of making a splash, we’re not going to

do that,” said Fowler, nicknamed ”The Sultan of Suds” after

making a fortune from his beer distributorships. ”We are convinced

we can have a methodical build in terms of increasing payroll and

increasing performance and we think we have done a pretty good job

of understanding how baseball works. We feel good about the way we

set things up. We feel good about our financial strength. Now,

we’re going after it.”

Following an awful start, the Padres went 42-33 after the

All-Star break last year to finish 76-86. Even so, they lost 10 of

their last 15 games.

While welcoming impressive rookie infielder Jedd Gyorko

(pronounced JER-ko), the Padres also still have third baseman Chase

Headley, at least for the time being.

Headley will be a litmus test for the new ownership group’s

pledge to keep young talent.

While the Padres held onto Headley at last year’s trade deadline

despite interest, they didn’t give him a long-term contract as they

have other young players, such as center fielder Cameron Maybin,

catcher Nick Hundley and pitcher Cory Luebke.

Headley had a breakout season that included 31 homers, an

NL-high 115 RBIs and his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger

awards. Headley and the Padres avoided salary arbitration, agreeing

on an $8,575,000, one-year contract that gives the third baseman a

$5.1 million raise.

Many fans think the owners are inclined to trade Headley rather

than give him a big deal, just as previous ownership traded Jake

Peavy and Adrian Gonzalez. The Padres control Headley’s rights

through 2014, although their leverage in trade talks will decline

the closer he gets to free agency.

”I know two years is a long time,” general manager Josh Byrnes

said. ”If he’s meant to remain beyond two years, it gives us time

to work through that. We made an attempt this offseason and it

didn’t work out. Again, we have a fair amount of time to make the

decision. At least in my history, when a player wants to stay and

the team wants to keep him, it usually works out that way.”

Headley broke his left thumb sliding into second base in a

spring training game and is expected to miss at least the first two

weeks of the season. Logan Forsythe, expected to play third while

Headley heals, has had health issues of his own – plantar fasciitis

in his right foot.

”Every player would ultimately like to be under a long-term

contract,” Headley said. ”Who wouldn’t enjoy that type of

security? That’s not always the case and it’s not always possible.

We’re very happy with the one-year deal that we got done. Regarding

a long-term contract, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

It’s the least of my worries right now.”

Headley said ”it stinks” being hurt. ”Being on the disabled

list is really frustrating, especially at the start of the year and

after such a good spring. You have to find ways to stay sharp and

mentally involved. That said, there’s no reason to get too down.

It’s not the end of the world. I’ll be back soon enough and I know

it could’ve been a lot worse. You try to look at the bright side

and stay positive. That’s really all you can do.”

Gyorko is expected to start at second base. He had three homers

and nine RBIs in his first five spring training games, including a

grand slam in his first spring at-bat.

Gyorko has a .319 batting average with 62 homers and 255 RBIs in

2 1-2 minor league seasons. He batted .328 with 24 homers and 83

RBIs last year at Triple-A Tucson.

”He’s always hit,” Byrnes said, ”and he’s played really well

at second. He’s come in and done what we hoped he’d do. He’s ready

to contribute at the major league level.”

Left fielder Carlos Quentin has been slowed this spring after

undergoing offseason knee surgery, and right-hander Casey Kelly,

the key player in the Gonzalez deal in December 2010, will have

reconstructive elbow surgery next week.

Catcher Yasmani Grandal will miss the first 50 games after

testing positive for testosterone, putting a question mark next to

his nice rookie stats. That gives Hundley the chance to atone for

his abysmal 2012 season, when he slumped badly and was hurt.

AP freelance writer Scott Bair contributed from Peoria,