The San Diego Padres have been one of baseball's biggest surprises this season. The only off-season buzz surrounding the Padres was where they would ship off All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell at or before the trade deadline.
But now with the Padres having spent significant time in first place in the tight NL West, not only should Gonzalez and Bell be staying but the Padres should actually be buyers at the deadline rather than sellers.
The Padres pitching has been ridiculous and their infield looks solid with Gonzalez, David Eckstein, Case Headley and Everth Cabrera. The catching combo of Nick Hundley and Yorvit Torrealba has been more than adequate.
But the outfield has largely failed to produce offensively, and left field specifically has been a revolving door of mediocre players all season.
Here is a list of five guys the Padres should be targeting as the July 31 trade deadline approaching.
Kearns isn't a perfect fit for the Padres by any means, but he would be a vast offensive improvement over the several players rotating in left field. His .313 batting average, 26 RBI and five HRs would make him a decent right-handed bat to go behind Adrian Gonzalez in the lineup.
Kearns is currently making $750,000 on a one-year contract with the Indians, who are going nowhere. While he is not the juiciest move the Padres could make at the deadline, he could be the easiest to acquire as the Indians would probably accept a low-level prospect in return.
Lewis would probably be No. 2 or 3 on this list if the Blue Jays weren't in contention. But in a very tough AL East, the Jays could be the odd team out in a cluster that includes the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees.
By the July trade deadline the Jays could be willing to part ways with Lewis who is currently hitting .291 with four HRs and 30 runs scored. His one-year, $455,000 contract would be attractive to the frugal Padres, and he could fill their holes atop the lineup and in left field.
Choo might be the best all-around talent in the group. He is currently hitting .282 with eight HRs, 28 RBI and 10 stolen bases.
As previously mentioned the Indians are not in contention and could be willing to part with Choo, who is not signed beyond this year and makes a very reasonable $461,000 this season.
Pence may not be as statistically exciting as Choo and is certainly more expensive but he could be the easier to acquire.
Pence is hitting .271 with nine HRs, 27 RBI and six stolen bases. His $3.5 million price tag makes him less attractive to the Padres, but they would only be paying about a third of it after the deadline.
The Astros, who currently have the worst record in the National League, will be looking to deal players, and Pence could be the first to go. Starting pitcher Roy Oswalt and first baseman Lance Berkman have expressed a desire to be traded, but they still have several very expensive years left on their contracts.
Pence is in the last year of his deal and will be motivated to make a big payday as a free agent in 2011. He would be a good rental for the Padres but not the ideal situation for a team looking to keep costs low.
Podsednik is the best fit for a number of reasons. His gritty playing style would mesh well with clubhouse leaders David Eckstein and Heath Bell. His contract is very reasonable with only two months remaining on a $1.75 million one-year deal.
Kansas City is already out of contention in the AL Central and will be looking to unload veterans for younger talent.
Best of all his .292 batting average, 17 stolen bases and above average defense would be perfect for spacious Petco Park. Podsednik would fill holes in left field and in the leadoff spot and could really help the Padres return to the postseason for the first time since 2006.