Print and Go Back Baseball [Print without images]

Monday, October 30, 2006
Padres decline option on Piazza; Cameron will return

Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- If Mike Piazza returns to the San Diego Padres next season, it will have to be for less than $8 million.

 Mike Piazza

The Padres declined to exercise 2007 options for Piazza and slugger Ryan Klesko on Monday. The two-time NL West champions will bring back center fielder Mike Cameron at $7 million and third baseman Russell Branyan at $1 million.

The Padres also arranged their first interviews in their search to replace manager Bruce Bochy.

St. Louis Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo is scheduled to interview on Tuesday, while Trey Hillman, manager of the Japanese team Nippon Ham Fighters, is due to interview on Thursday.

Padres general manager Kevin Towers was trying to schedule Angels pitching coach Bud Black for an interview on Wednesday, and former Dodgers hitting coach Tim Wallach for Friday or Saturday.

Towers said he told the Angels of his interest in Black, and that he probably would call in the next few days to ask permission.

Towers would like to have a new manager by Nov. 12, the day before the general managers meetings begin.

Bochy, San Diego's manager since 1995, jumped to the San Francisco Giants on Friday because the Padres hadn't offered him an extension beyond next season.

Black is believed to be a leading candidate. The former big league pitcher lives in exclusive Rancho Santa Fe just north of San Diego and has been the Angels' pitching coach for seven seasons. He was a teammate of Tony Gwynn at San Diego State.

On the player front, no one was surprised that the Padres declined Piazza's $8 million option, instead offering a $750,000 buyout.

"There absolutely is a chance" Piazza could return to San Diego, said his agent, Dan Lozano of the Beverly Hills Sports Council.

"Kevin has indicated to me at some point he is going to want to talk about bringing him back," Lozano said. "Mike loved playing the year in San Diego. He thought the organization was fantastic, the fans were tremendous and is definitely considering going back. But at the same time, being a free agent does allow you to see who else is interested in you. That's something he'll explore also."

The 38-year-old catcher hit .283 with 22 home runs and 68 RBI in 126 games after signing with the Padres as a free agent. He made 99 starts and had a $1.25 million salary.

Lozano said Piazza's not necessarily looking to DH in the American League.

"I believe he proved to the NL that he can still catch 100 to 110 games a year. He does not have a preference, so he feels he's in a good spot. Mike really wants to win. He's at a point where we don't know how many more years he has left. He really wants to try to win a ring."

Towers said he'd like to have Piazza back, at a lower price.

"He did a great job for us last year. He's a tremendous guy in the clubhouse, a great leader," Towers said. "I think he enjoyed his year here, and I think the feeling is mutual. He proved that he's still got a lot left. He caught more ballgames than people expected. Certainly there will be interest out there for him."

Piazza's 22 home runs set a single-season record for a San Diego catcher. On April 26, he became the 41st player in big league history to reach the 400-homer plateau. He has 419 homers and is the career leader with 396 home runs as a catcher.

The Padres held an $8 million option on Klesko, but chose a $500,000 buyout. Klesko is likely to seek an everyday job rather than playing behind Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

Klesko missed the first 150 games this season while rehabbing from surgery on his left shoulder. He joined the Padres in a trade with Atlanta before the 2000 season.

Cameron was an upgrade in playing Petco Park's spacious center field, and he hit .268 with 22 home runs and 83 RBI in his first season with San Diego. He was obtained for Xavier Nady in a trade with the New York Mets last Nov. 18.

Branyan batted .292 with six homers and nine RBI in 27 games after being acquired from Tampa Bay on Aug. 24. He started 26 of the last 33 games at third base.