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In this three-part series I am examining what I believe the Padres should do at the trade deadline so we are in position in 2009 to contend for the playoffs once again. Yesterday I looked at our depth by position, seeing where we had talent for this year and beyond and noting where we could upgrade. Today, I want to look at pitchers.

If there is one thing Padres fans have learned to trust Kevin Towers on, it’s his assessment of pitching. Heading into the season we knew we had three solid starters but also two glaring holes in the rotation. Towers took on this project like he did any other that involves pitching and sought out some bargain basement deals. He then proceeded to plug the holes in our pen with younger, cheaper talent but kept the main parts in tact.

This approach should not have caused much of a drastic change in our team ERA, especially since we led the league in that category last year, but somewhere along the way we ended up with more garage sale junk than we did bargain finds.

Starters: Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Greg Maddux did a great job as starters for us last year and we had no reason to believe anything would be different this year so Towers focused on getting guys to fill the last two rotation spots and put (very little) money on Randy Wolf and Mark Prior. Heading into the season we all knew Prior was still in the rehab process and he wasn’t likely to return until June 1, but at $1 million for the season, it seemed worth the gamble to bring him on, especially if he could bring a fresh (if oft-injured) arm to the rotation while we were in the thick of a pennant race. It didn’t seem that tough to find someone who could fill in for two months and with Justin Germano coming back, we thought he could take care of it after his great first half last season.

Wolf was in a similar situation, having spent much of the past few years injured, and for another $1 million this season he was another low-priced gamble that seemed better than giving a mediocre pitcher a high-priced, lengthy contract that would saddle us for years.

Somewhere along the way though the law of averages caught up with us and brought bad luck with it. Peavy started OK but had to hit the DL because his arm was sending him warning signals. Young got hit in the face with a ball and has yet to return. Maddux hasn’t won a game since May 10 despite a 3.90 ERA, a 1.23 WHIP and seven quality starts since then. Wolf has been that bargain Towers always finds and has been a great No. 4 starter. The fact that he has not had injury problems yet is also a bonus. Prior never came back, Germano couldn’t get his smoke-and-mirrors routine to fly this year and every other plug-in should not be starting.

Hopefully the Padres decide that they only need to reload for 2009, not rebuild for the future. If that is the course they take, bringing back Maddux and Wolf could be a smart move yet again (provided they aren’t traded) and maybe there will be a No. 5 starter in all that talent we have acquired in the minors. It can’t be worse than what we’ve started this year.

Verdict: Keep the old guys and find a No. 5 starter.

Relievers: I think most of us felt going into the season that the loss of Doug Brocail wouldn’t be that tough to overcome. That hasn’t been the case though and even the steady Cla Meredith has pitched pretty mediocre. We have had a non-stop shuttle from AAA Portland bringing arms to us all year and I don’t think that trend will change any time soon. However, Towers will probably get a reliever or two thrown in to any deal we make so we should never run out of guys to at least try out.

Verdict: We won’t bring in a big name, but Towers will eventually find something decent — he always does.

Going through position by position, it appears we have definite needs in the middle infield, outfield and pitching. Next I will look at the guys who have a shot at being traded and the type of value we should hope to get in return. I won’t name specific names because who knows what we ever pick up, but looking at other recent trades I think we can look at the types of guys we can get back.

JIM HIGGINS

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