SAN DIEGO — The Padres aren't exactly opening the bank vaults, but they finally decided Tuesday to pursue another club's free agent when they offered infielder Kurt Stillwell a two-year, guaranteed contract.
Stillwell, who has been the Kansas City Royals' shortstop the past four years, was offered a two-year deal for $3 million, according to sources close to the negotiations. The Padres apparently would be willing to offer free agency after the contract expires, but it's unknown whether it would be without compensation.
Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, confirmed the team made an offer to Stillwell after two negotiation sessions but would not comment on the contract terms.
"We made an offer," McIlvaine said, "but it's a question of terms and money whether or not we'll sign him."
Neither Stillwell nor agent Scott Boras would divulge their counter-offer, but one Padre source said Stillwell is seeking $5.5 million.
"It feels great to know the Padres are interested," Stillwell, 26, said. "We think we're worth more on the market, but I'm excited about the initial offer. This free-agent business is new to me, but I'll keep saying my prayers and hope everything turns out."
Stillwell also has drawn attention from at least two other teams, but the Padres are the first team to make a concrete offer. The Dodgers also have expressed interest in Stillwell, but according to sources, would have to trade second baseman Juan Samuel before they could make an offer.
One National League source said the Dodgers have discussed a trade with the Angels that would send Samuel to California for shortstop Dick Schofield. That would leave the Dodgers a vacancy at second base, which could be filled by Stillwell.
"If we get an offer that Kurt is impressed with, he'll sign right away," Boras said. "I think the question is going to revolve around what the market is for Kurt. We're listening intently."
Stillwell said last week he would be willing to sign a one-year contract with the Padres. But the team would be reluctant to lose a draft choice--its top pick in the June free agent draft--to obtain the infielder's service for only one year. McIlvaine said he's more comfortable knowing he at least would have Stillwell for two years.
"I don't want to talk too much about it," McIlvaine said, "but he's a guy who can help us. I like him a lot."
A switch-hitter with a .253 career batting average, Stillwell has averaged seven homers and 52 RBIs in his four seasons with Kansas City. He was benched for almost six weeks in the middle of this past season, but returned to bat .294 after the All-Star break with two homers and 20 RBIs. He finished the season at .265, with six homers and 51 RBIs.
"I know I can help them; I'll stack myself up against any of the free-agent infielders," Stillwell said. "I know I haven't played second base for four years, but I've always enjoyed it, and I know it's a position where my talents will excel."
One selling point for Stillwell is Padre Manager Greg Riddoch. Stillwell was drafted and developed by the Reds when Riddoch was an administrator in their front office, and their friendship and mutual respect never has waned.
"I'd give my left arm for that man," Stillwell said. "It'd mean so much to me to play for a guy like Greg. It's been a while since I've felt wanted, and that means everything in the world to me."
If the Padres are able to sign Stillwell, the Padre ownership has been promised that all attempts will be made to trade reliever Craig Lefferts, according to one owner. Lefferts is scheduled to earn $1.875 million this season, and the Padres already have exceeded their 1992 player payroll budget.
The Padre payroll is expected to increase by nearly $3 million alone in their six eligible arbitration cases. Catchers Benito Santiago and Dann Bilardello; pitchers Randy Myers, Greg Harris and Mike Maddux, and outfielder Darrin Jackson all filed Tuesday for arbitration.