Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | Deception and betrayal have been the prevailing mindset of talk radio hosts and boisterous boosters regarding the absence of the open-wallet policy that San Diego Padres’ brass alluded would follow the opening of Petco Park.

Clearly, fans have ownership on a short leash after rotating the turnstiles more than three million times in 2004. They’re barking about San Diego’s back-page alterations while Arizona, Los Angeles and the San Francisco fetched off-season headlines with big-name acquisitions. Major League Baseball owners’ billion-dollar bonanza brought Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson to the Big Apple while in San Diego we got…Woody Williams and Eric Young?

“C’mon guys, throw the dogs a bone! Right?”

Wrong! It’s time to bury such nonsense.

After sniffing around a little, it’s clear the Padres are ready to take a bite out of the National League West. Albeit an unpopular decision, General Manager Kevin Towers wisely chose to tweak the roster instead of spending millions on an overhaul. This makes a lot of sense when you look at the numbers.

The Padres posted 87 victories in 2004, a 23-game improvement from 2003 and their highest total since 1998. San Diego set a club record with 1,521 hits and surged out of the division cellar for the first time since 2001.

To secure a shot at soaring into first place, the Friars added speedy leadoff man Dave Roberts. The centerfielder will cover a lot of territory and retrieve fly balls that were hits last year. Roberts, who swiped 123 bases throughout the past three seasons, should become the first Padre to have more than 20 steals since 2001.

The subtle acquisitions of Young and Mark Sweeney strengthen the bench. An already-bullying bullpen picked up some left-handed balance, and the rotation finally is sound one through five. Pitching should not be a problem.

A healthy and productive season from Ryan Klesko is critical to the offense. The lineup is vastly improved with Sean Burroughs sliding into the sixth spot and budding superstar Khalil Greene anchoring the attack. Roberts and Mark Loretta will set the table for Phil Nevin and Klesko, who will rack up RBIs by hitting line drives around their backyard.

When chemistry has been a key factor in determining the last three World Series Champions, why mess with success?

Folks in Los Angeles are asking that very same question. The division champs no longer own a purebred stud (Adrian Beltre) and loveable mutts (Steve Finley, Jose Lima and Paul LoDuca). But they spent millions rescuing J.D. Drew, Jeff Kent, and Derek Lowe from the pound.

The Giants continue to hunt with old dogs. Snarling Alpha Male-Barry Bonds-hopes the additions of Moises Alou, Omar Vizquel and Mike Matheny will do the trick. After playing dead in 2004, Arizona picked up Green and spent ruthlessly on Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz. But foes no longer have to cower at the Big Unit.

Still bemoaning the Padres refusal to join into the winter shopping spree? Well, consider this: The enhancement projects to Petco will cost the owner John Moores $3 million — or roughly one dollar per smiling fan leaving the park in 2005.

Kevin Aron is a freelance writer in San Diego and outright sports junky. As luck would have it, he turned a childhood obsession into a professional career. Kevin has worked in college sports information, sports agent offices and, most recently, as managing editor of DIRECTVSPORTS.com for nearly five years.

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