SAN DIEGO (AP) - A strong second half, fueled by Chase Headley's breakout season, showed that there's promise for the low-budget San Diego Padres.
That hope was strengthened when the Oakland Athletics, who have baseball's lowest player payroll, won the AL West.
General manager Josh Byrnes said the TV in the Padres' clubhouse was tuned to the A's game against Texas on Wednesday.
"Seeing Oakland, if that doesn't sort of get your attention, big market or small, our players were riveted watching that game," Byrnes said Thursday. "I thought it was a great achievement. We want to be that team."
The Padres, who had the second-lowest payroll, went 42-33 after the All-Star break. While far better than their awful start, it wasn't enough to prevent them from finishing 76-86, their fourth losing record in five seasons. They were fourth in the NL West, 18 games behind the San Francisco Giants.
San Diego hasn't been to the playoffs since 2006.
The Padres believe they have most of the pieces in place to contend next year under manager Bud Black. Byrnes said they'll need to add starting pitching, mostly because their rotation was hit with a rash of injuries early in the season that contributed to the team winning only 17 games through May and being 22 games under .500 - 24-46 - on June 20.
"I do think the personality of who we want to be, the mix in there of Buddy, players, coaches, is very good," Byrnes said. "So I think we've taken a big step in kind of the personality we want. To me, from a personnel standpoint, I think our starting pitching needs to get better. Even the winning we did over the last 100, 110 games, wasn't on the backs of our starting pitching. At times, even in September, we kind of ran out of gas. But it's a tough area to address and a lot of our good ones are hurt, so projecting when they return next year, how many innings we can count on are unknowns and will make the planning tricky. But as far as things we're trying to go get in the offseason, the focus will be on starting pitching."
The Padres had only two pitchers throw more than 100 innings, lefty Clayton Richard with 218 2-3 and Edinson Volquez with 182 2-3. Besides Richard and Volquez, 22 pitchers threw at least 16 innings.
While the pitching was an issue, Headley's season was phenomenal. He won the NL RBI title with 115. Among his other career-bests were 31 homers, 173 hits and 95 runs scored.
The Padres have given several players long-term deals, but Headley isn't among them. Byrnes said the team has discussed a multi-year deal for the third baseman, but the Padres control his rights for two more seasons. At the very least, Headley will certainly cash in via arbitration.
Asked if the Padres were wrong for not extending Headley, Byrnes said: "Probably, yeah."
Byrnes pointed out that the extensions the team has given were either to players approaching free agency - left fielder Carlos Quentin and closer Huston Street - or younger players including center fielder Cameron Maybin, pitcher Cory Luebke and catcher Nick Hundley. Luebke was among several Padres pitchers who required surgery and Hundley struggled after getting his deal and later was injured.
Byrnes said Headley falls in between those two groups.
"The good news is, two years is a long time," Byrnes said. "If having such a good year makes negotiations difficult, we've got a lot of time. He's a home-grown guy, he's invested in this franchise, but the system is designed for a reason. It protects him, because he's going to get a nice raise because he had such a nice year, and it protects us because we control him for at least two more years."
Until this year, Headley hadn't put up the power number expected of a third baseman. The switch-hitter said he worked hard at elevating the ball on the pull side.
On that topic, Byrnes and Black said they support moving in the fences in certain parts of Petco Park. Byrnes said the club is still discussing the matter and that no decision has been made.
"I think there are certain parts of the park that play a little bit extreme, that I think will help balance out some well-hit balls," Black said. "In simple terms, if you hit a ball a long ways, and hit it well, it should be a home run."
Black said the areas that need to be addressed are right-center, which has flummoxed Padres hitters since the park opened in 2004, and a bit in left-center.
"My sense is it wouldn't be a drastic change," Byrnes said. "I think the extreme parts of the park would be corrected. ... We know when a ball's really crushed, the park has been a bit unfair."
The Padres were purchased in August by a group headed by the O'Malley and Seidler families and local businessman Ron Fowler. They haven't said what their target player payroll is for 2013.