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Padres Prepared to Shop, Swap : Winter meetings: McIlvaine, still negotiating with Reds, pursues reliever, power hitter and infielders.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, listens to the rumblings in the community. They grow louder and angrier by the day. While their counterparts in the National League West continue to strengthen themselves, the Padres have been stagnant.

Instead of showing signs of distress, McIlvaine actually looks relaxed. It’s almost as if he’s bemused by everyone’s concern.

If this indeed is a man churning inside by the trades and acquisitions made by the Cincinnati Reds and Dodgers, McIlvaine should get an Oscar for acting as if he were running the ’27 Yankees.

Everyone in baseball knows the Padres could have had All-Star Eric Davis roaming the outfield for the 1992 season. Instead McIlvaine refused to put reliever Jose Melendez in a trade to Cincinnati Reds, and Davis went to the Dodgers. The Padres could have Randy Myers as a bullpen stopper, but McIlvaine steadfastly has refused to include outfielder Thomas Howard with Bip Roberts, telling the Reds he wants a one-for-one trade.

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The Reds, a little mystified, have even offered to throw in reliever Tim Layana, but McIlvaine hasn’t budged. They’ll continue their talks at the winter meetings--which officially open today in Miami--but the Reds became intrigued Thursday by a proposal from an American League team offering a slugging outfielder.

Although the Padres won’t know for a few days, it’s possible they won’t get Myers, either.

“I don’t feel pressure to do anything,” McIlvaine said. “Pressure is self-inflicted. Our ball club did a lot of experimenting, and we should be better because of that.

“Certainly, we have some holes we’re trying to fill, but I’m not going to do anything foolish.”

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So McIlvaine remains patient, making sure he receives maximum value for those he plans to trade. It might be different if money was of little consideration, but the Padres are not about to pull any big bills out of their wallet.

Ah, money.

It’s money that will compel the Padres to trade catcher Benito Santiago before the opening day of the 1992 season.

It’s money that will leave the Padres out of serious contention for the best available power-hitter in the game--free agent Danny Tartabull.

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It’s money that simply might preclude the Padres, once again, from being a serious contender in the National League West.

“Look, we want to do everything we can to field a championship team,” Padre chairman Tom Werner said. “We’re not necessarily focusing on the bottom line, but we don’t want to lose our shirts each year, either.

“We’re not foreclosing the possibility (of acquiring Tartabull), but we’re not operating under the same financial constraints as the Dodgers and Angels, either. I’m disturbed of the money that’s being thrown out right now.

“There’s a lot of selfishness going on in the game.”

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Without importing free agents, it might be impossible to fill all the Padres’ needs. They need a bullpen stopper. They need a power hitter to protect Fred McGriff in the lineup. They need a third baseman. They need a second baseman. . . .

They need a miracle.

Once the Padres trade Roberts, who still is expected to wind up in Cincinnati, the Padres’ major focus in the winter meetings will be shopping All-Star catcher Santiago. Although they acknowledge he’s the finest offensive catcher in the game, the Padres simply don’t believe he’s a $4 million-a-year player, let alone $5 million.

Santiago will be a free agent after the 1992 season, and unless the Padres can sign him to a multi-year contract, McIlvaine says he might have no choice but to trade him.

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McIlvaine, who gave up all hope of signing Santiago a year ago when he asked for a four-year, $16-million contract, called agent Scott Boras this week to determine Santiago’s demands. He has yet to negotiate with Boras, but he already has a feeling it could be futile.

“We thought his demands were exorbitant a year ago,” McIlvaine said, “and I doubt they’ll settle for less.”

Said Boras: “If they want to make an offer, we’ll listen, but it’s going to take a special offer. What I get a kick out of is that they always bring up Will Clark’s contract (four years, $15 million) in all this. Well, Benito’s not Clark. But neither is (Bobby) Bonilla. And Bonilla is making $13 million more than Clark.”

It probably will take a five-year contract in excess of $20 million to sign Santiago, but Boras refuses to tip his hand, denying speculation that he’s asking for a five-year deal. Still, even if Boras makes the same offer of a year ago, the Padres won’t bother to negotiate, and instead will begin fielding offers at the winter meetings.

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It’ll be a similar scenario to the Houston Astros’ of a year ago when they gave up hope of signing first baseman Glenn Davis. The Astros went to every major league team, asked them to submit their best offers for Davis, made assessments and dealt him in January to the Baltimore Orioles for a package of players.

The Padres, who desperately need to acquire a power hitter in a Santiago deal, could fill that need with Tartabull--and not having to give up anything but a draft choice. Tartabull and his agent, Dennis Gilbert, have told the Padres how badly the outfielder wants to play in San Diego. But the Padres have yet to make an offer.

“His is strictly a financial decision,” McIlvaine said. “You wish it was a baseball decision, but the reality is that it’s a contractual and financial decision.

“I have a budget I have to work with. I can go to the supermarket and fill up my cart with Tartabull but then you have to drop a package. Sometimes, you just get backed in a financial corner.”

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Considering McIlvaine arrived to San Diego from New York, where the Mets are proving their budget is larger than that of some Third World countries, perhaps the financial constraints are a bigger burden than he imagined?

“You’re not going to hear any complaints here,” McIlvaine said. “You just make it work, that’s all. I’ve seen both sides. It’s just a bigger challenge. Maybe we can’t stand up and box with the Mets, but you can still work within the system.”

Indeed, during McIlvaine’s tenure in New York, they never signed a high-priced free agent, but still won a World Series and two division titles.

In fact, it was McIlvaine’s methods of producing within the organization that led the Padres to sign him to a three-year contract and two-year option that is estimated to be worth $2.6 million.

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“That’s what attracted us most about him,” Werner said. “He had his success by developing his own people and talent. But if he wants to explore free agency now, he’s allowed, and he knows that.

“We didn’t set out to be cheap, we set out to be a winner. I’m still not convinced spending $30 million on one ballplayer can make you a champion.”

Moreover, the Padres would like to ease their payroll a bit during the winter meetings by leaving Miami without left-handed reliever Craig Lefferts. He would become expendable with the acquisition of Myers, and the Padres would love to rid themselves of his $1.75-million contract.

The Padres have had trade talks with the Boston Red Sox about Lefferts and could trade him for third baseman Scott Cooper, who has spent most of the past two years in triple-A.

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Of course, they’d like nothing better than to come away with third baseman Gregg Jefferies of the New York Mets, but it would cost them pitcher Greg Harris, and McIlvaine says he’s extremely reluctant to give up pitching.

Other third basemen available are Gary Sheffield of the Milwaukee Brewers, Ken Caminiti of the Houston Astros and Charlie Hayes of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Padres also need a second baseman, but it remains a low priority. Steve Sax of the New York Yankees, Terry Shumpert of the Kansas City Royals and Jeff Treadway of the Atlanta Braves are among those available. The Padres have little interest in Sax, who might go to the Dodgers, but might inquire about Shumpert and Treadway.

The Padres also will keep a keen eye this weekend to learn what free-agent players will be offered salary arbitration. If a player is not offered arbitration, a team is not compensated in draft choices, which could renew the Padres’ interest. The Padres have to make a few decisions themselves; they are expected to offer arbitration to infielders Tim Teufel and Jack Howell, but not to pitchers Dennis Rasmussen and Atlee Hammaker.

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“You never know what’s going to happen at these meetings,” McIlvaine said. “If you asked me a year ago, I never would have thought we’d trade Joe Carter or Robbie Alomar. That’s what makes them so intriguing.”


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