Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008: Padres manager Buddy Black ran down the lineup he envisions for the 2008 season when he reached the middle of the batting order.

“… Kouz third, Gonzo fourth, Greeney fifth … ” he said, meaning third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and shortstop Khalil Greene.

When you can refer to the heart of your order with catchy nicknames everyone knows, you’ve got players popular with teammates and fans.

Some people would like to see big-name free agents in the lineup when spring training begins, staring with pitchers and catchers assembling this weekend in Peoria, Ariz.

But anybody who wants to see the Padres sign Barry Bonds would sell their soul in a “Damn Yankees!” script. It would be sort of like the New England Patriots acquiring Randy Moss after he quit on the Oakland Raiders.

Is that how you want to win? I don’t.

But the free agent road to perdition is not San Diego’s path to perennially contending for the post-season.

The Padres want to reach the playoffs along the route the Arizona Diamondbacks traveled to win the National League West title by a game over the Padres and the way the Colorado Rockies beat the Padres in a one-game playoff for the wild-card berth.

In three short seasons, the NL West went from the worst division in baseball — when the Padres won the division title with an 82-80 record — to maybe the best when three teams fought for two post-season berths.

What happened? It wasn’t free agency, since the biggest spender in the NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers, dropped out of contention first among the five West clubs.

The reason, general manager Kevin Towers said, is the influx of young, home-grown talent by the Diamondbacks and Rockies. Somewhere in the middle of the pack last year was the Padres, but Towers says his franchise’s farm system is catching up.

The Padres are also building a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic that Towers says “will be the Taj Mahal of the island.” He expects homegrown talent to start arriving soon.

“I’m most excited about the kids,” Towers said. “We are finally at a position where we’ve got great depth at the upper level. These guys are going to be here shortly. It will become very similar to what Colorado has now with [Matt] Holliday, [Brad] Hawpe, [Garrett] Atkins and [Troy] Tulowitzki, a lot of home-grown players. There’s a lot to look forward to.”

Chase Headley was the Texas League MVP last year as a third baseman, but he is experimenting with a shift to left field — the biggest question mark in the lineup.

Mark Antonelli, the 2006 first-round draft pick from Wake Forest, is already in position to challenge for a Major League roster spot at second base or the outfield.

Callix Crabbe, from the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a speedy outfield prospect whom Towers likes.

Cesar Ramos is a promising left-handed pitcher.

Towers feels signing high-priced free agents involves more risk of setting back a franchise than capitalizing with a World Series trip. For supporting evidence, see Texas Rangers, Alex Rodriguez.

It won’t surprise Towers to see the New York Mets added to such a list. The Minnesota Twins made pitcher Johan Santana available before they lost him to free agency, and the Mets paid a high price for Santana.

“It’s a nice player that they signed, but if you get a chance to go onto Baseball America and you look at the Minnesota Twins’ top five prospects, four of them are New York Mets,” Towers said. “They gave up a lot, a lot of young players, for a pitcher that is a great pitcher. But no one player is going to make you all of the sudden a world champion.”

Towers went on to say he applauded Yankees GM Brian Cashman and Red Sox GM Theo Epstein for passing on the deal. He also said he didn’t expect the Mets to be the best team in the NL East.

“I’d say more clubs have made more mistakes on those types of players — giving up younger players while entering into long-term deals for veterans — especially when there is always the risk of injury.”

You can waste your time lamenting the Padres don’t sign high-priced free agents or you can study the farm system rosters. You’ll know more about the Padres this year and next doing the latter.

And you won’t have to suffer seeing Barry Bonds in a Padres uniform.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.</</p>

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