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Headley wants to stay in San Diego, but contract talks with Padres are going nowhere

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PEORIA, Ariz. - Chase Headley is confident the Padres will spend what it takes to become a contender.

It's just that so far they haven't offered him enough money to ensure he'll stay in San Diego.

A healthy and confident Headley was upbeat in the clubhouse Wednesday after the retooled Padres held their first full squad workout of spring training, even as the third baseman acknowledged contract talks are going nowhere and he'll likely become a free agent next winter.

"Unless something drastically changes, I think we're just going to focus on playing this year and reevaluate when the season's over," Headley said. "I don't think either side is going to close the door, necessarily, but I think we've had enough discussion to understand that right now we haven't found enough common ground to keep doing this."

Headley, who declared himself fit after minor off-season surgery on his right knee, declined to say how long of a contact he's seeking or how far apart the two sides are on money.

Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler was similarly tightlipped when asked if he thought a deal could be reached before the start of the regular season.

"All I'll say is that discussions have taken place," Fowler said. "To put a timeline on us I think is not appropriate at this point."

Fowler's tone Wednesday was a far cry from last May, when he said he was prepared to offer Headley a multi-year deal that would make him the highest-paid player in franchise history.

Headley, though, quickly rebuffed the overture and said he wouldn't negotiate during the season. He then went on to hit just .250 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs.

Headley acknowledged the trouble in the negotiations now is whether he should be paid for hitting .286 with 31 home runs and a National League-best 115 RBIs in 2012, or for last season's mediocre numbers.

"As a player you're always going to bet on yourself," Headley said. "I think I'm a much better player than I showed last year. And I think in this coming year and the years to come I'm going to be a better player. So that's why we are where we are and we understand it."

The two sides avoided arbitration in January when Headley agreed to a one-year deal for a team-high $10,525,000.

Known for being thrifty in the past, the Padres also signed free-agent starting pitcher Josh Johnson to a one-year, $8 million deal and brought in setup man Joaquin Benoit for $15.5 million over two years.

The Padres, who last made the playoffs in 2006, are expected to have a club-record payroll of about $87 million.

"In business you budget for investment years, and I'd call this the first of probably many investment years," Fowler said.

That's a key for Headley, who turns 30 in May and has yet to play in the post-season.

"If the club's not going to be willing to put the pieces on the field that you need, then I don't want to be part of that club," Headley said. "And I know that's not going to be the case here.

"San Diego is all I've ever known and I have a lot of strong feelings about the guys in this clubhouse, the coaching staff, the city. Perfect world? Absolutely, this would be the No. 1 choice."

But Headley doubts a deal can be reached before the opener and vowed to again not negotiate during the season. And the Padres may want to wait to see if Headley rebounds from his subpar 2013.

"It's kind of a difficult thing to judge," Headley said, "when you're coming off two seasons that were kind of polar opposites."

NOTES: Fowler, who indicated 10-year-old Petco Park had been "neglected" recently, said a new sound system has been installed and a new video board is likely in 2015. "We want to put significant number of dollars in over the next five years and have Petco looking the way Petco should," Fowler said. . The Padres announced the opener March 30 against the Dodgers is a sellout and CEO Mike Dee said ticket interest is at a "five-year high."

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