Calling the just-swapped-to-St. Louis Khalil Greene “a riddle wrapped in a mystery beneath a Jeff Spicoli haircut”, the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Tim Sullivan insists “the Padres predicament is so painfully plain that the front office is making no effort to justify its salary dumps as anything else.”

The Padres’ grievance procedure over Greene’s season-ending tantrum had some bearing on the club’s decision to make a deal. Yet the key factor underpinning Thursday’s trade was undoubtedly finances. Unable to count on owner John Moores to provide a cash infusion during his divorce, Padres management has had little choice but to prune its player payroll to conform with its revenue projections. Current calculations indicate a cut close to the $40 million mark, which falls somewhere between an austerity budget and the Florida Marlins.

Shedding Greene’s $6.5 million salary still leaves the Padres roughly $5 million short of that goal, so it does not mean the Padres can afford to keep pitching ace Jake Peavy. Still, it should reduce their desperation to make a deal.

There’s still a gun at management’s head, to be sure, but at least it’s no longer cocked. General Manager Kevin Towers says the Chicago Cubs now have the talent available to swing a Peavy deal (through the involvement of third parties), but that the Padres now have enough flexibility to say no.

œIt doesn’t look as though Peavy is a definite goner, Black said. œI would think KT will continue to fish a little bit.

Given the Padres’ bleak short-term prospects, and the $63 million remaining on Peavy’s contract, a preseason trade remains the likeliest outcome.

Conceivably, Towers said, trading Peavy could give the Padres the financial flexibility to revisit negotiations with estranged reliever Trevor Hoffman. On the other hand (to borrow Sandy Alderson’s pet phrase), what good is a closer if you’re always behind?