Whether that is as big of a deal as the national television audience was led to believe is debatable. Another senior Cardinals official brushed off Walker's presence with a comment that it was Walker's "normal coverage schedule", an implication that his presence was simply business as usual.
That is all well and good, but whatever the reason for the Cardinals scouting the Phils, will it matter? No one knows for sure, as the current baseball situation in the City of Brotherly Love is literally day-to-day.
As of Monday, the Phils general manager believes they are still in the playoff hunt, according to Chuck Hixson, our Scout.com publisher with PhillyBaseballNews.com. "Pat Gillick insists that right now, the Phillies are buyers, but admits that if things don't go well this week, they'll turn into sellers very quickly," Hixson explains.
Their next seven games, all at home against three other sub-.500 clubs, Atlanta (one), Arizona (three) and Florida (three), will likely mean the difference between the Phillies becoming buyers or sellers.
They are currently just six games out of the NL wild card lead, with a week to go until the non-waiver trade deadline. However, there are eight teams bunched ahead of the Phillies between them and the top of the wild card heap. Hixson believes this is what will ultimately lead the Phils to accept some trade offers.
Or not. You see, their general manager, Pat Gillick, acquired the nickname "Stand Pat" years ago based on his reputation against making the very kinds of deals rumored now. And, the label has stuck for good reason.
Yet, in Gillick's defense, he may have a good reason to "Stand Pat". After all, his team truly isn't out of it yet. Looking at the standings, the Phillies are currently just one game behind Houston and Atlanta and interestingly, tied with Florida.
Though they have one more loss than Philadelphia, as we've seen, the Astros surely haven't yet thrown in the towel. In recent days, they have already added a big bat in Aubrey Huff and are rumored to be looking for more reinforcements.
The Braves are also re-energized by their recent strong play, having acquired the dependable closer they have lacked in several seasons in Bob Wickman, who came over from Cleveland this past weekend.
So, while the Phillies' status is clearly in limbo-land, let's take a look at some of the most viable trade targets on their roster.
Option "A" - Bobby Abreu
Any recent Phillie trade rumor story has to start with All-Star Bobby Abreu, just as it did with Scott Rolen back in 2002. While the Abreu marriage has not been as acrimonious as was the breakup with their former third baseman, all is not rosy. Here is Hixson's assessment:
"Abreu has gotten a bad rap in Philly, because his home run and RBI numbers are down, but his OBP is still strong and he's one of the few Phillies that can actually hit with runners in scoring position," observed Hixson. Abreu is hitting .333 (30-for-90) with runners in scoring position here in 2006.
However, the 32-year old Venezuelan native isn't known as a totally committed defender in right field. Hixson agrees with the many very vocal Philles fans who deride Abreu's fielding. "He isn't the type to run into a wall to make a play though and that's sort of killed him with the fans in Philly (that, plus the falling stats)."
Then, there is the not so small matter of salary. Abreu is due $15.5 million in 2007. His contract also includes a 2008 team option of $16 million with a $2 million buyout. Abreu's public stance has been that he expects that 2008 option to be exercised as part of the condition of any trade. In return, Abreu would waive the full no-trade clause in his contract.
To put this into perspective, with that contract, Abreu would become the highest-paid Cardinals player the next two seasons – making slightly more than even Albert Pujols. As a result, Abreu's arrival might cause a greater disruption in the team's salary hierarchy beyond his own hefty stipend.
Option "B" - Pat Burrell
With that, let's move on to a dark-horse, and recent trade race entrant, left fielder Pat Burrell. In 2003, he signed a heavily-backended contract totaling $50 million over six years, giving up his three arbitration-eligible years in the process.
The bad news is that the backended years are just ahead in 2007 ($13 million) and 2008 ($14 million). And, guess what? Like Abreu, Burrell was given blanket no-trade protection.
Who knows? The 29-year old Arkansas native might welcome a trade to the Cardinals.
But, should the Cardinals want an outfielder who will make more than Scott Rolen and the rest of the team's stars besides Pujols?
Offensively, Burrell's performance has been up and down. The Phillies first-round pick in 1998 has had two standout years (greater than 30 home runs and 100 RBI) in his six campaigns in the majors.
In 2002, "Pat the Bat" reached high water marks in home runs (37) and batting average (.283). On the other hand, the year he signed the big contract, 2003, was his lowest RBI output (64 in 146 games) and he hit a paltry .209. No wonder they booed him.
In his defense, while Burrell is not known for his glove, he has played through injuries some might characterize as lingering while others might wonder if they aren't chronic. Hixson explains.
"Burrell has a bad foot that limits him at times and there are some holes in his game. Because of his foot, he's a liability at times in left field."
Would the Phils pay as much as 30% of either Burrell's or Abreu's remaining salaries, as at least one Cardinals watcher theorizes?
That is likely wishful thinking on the part of Cardinals fans, ESPN's Jayson Stark told me Monday. "I was told they're willing to pay a little bit of the salary, but not a whole lot," the Philadelphia-based Stark explained.
Hixson calls out Burrell as the lower-priced option of the two. "The Phillies would give up Burrell cheaper than Abreu. In fact, they're considering Rodrigo Lopez from Baltimore for him straight up", Hixson explains.
Stark agrees that Burrell would come more cheaply. "If somebody takes Burrell's salary, they don't even want much back in talent. The question now, though, is whether he'll waive his no-trade. I'd bet he would go to St. Louis, but I can't be sure of that."
If we assume for a moment that the Cardinals will not authorize a significant increase in payroll for 2007 and 2008, as a number of pessimists assert, where would an extra $12 to $15 million each season come from?
Or, could it mean trading a core player like a Jason Isringhausen, due up to almost $17 million if his 2008 option is exercised, and $10 million otherwise? And, who would replace these players?
The fact is that without significant salary help from their trading partner, the Cardinals would either need to move out current salary or increase their budget substantially to accommodate weighty contracts like those of Abreu and Burrell.
Is that potential risk and disruption worth the price?
OK, despite rumors that Cards general manager Walt Jocketty wants to make an "impact" trade, let's consider the possibility that the Cards were instead scouting some lower-cost options in Philly.
Option "C" - Rheal Cormier
How about left-handed relief specialist Rheal Cormier, with a reasonable salary this season ($2.5 million) and a team option for next ($3 million)?
This option would seem to hinge on the condition of Randy Flores' tender elbow. Plus, Tyler Johnson has proven to be a good second lefty out of the pen, but come October, is probably not as battle-tested as Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa prefer.
Cormier, age 39, was originally drafted by the Cardinals way back in 1988 and played for the major league club from 1991 through 1994. In recent years, "Frenchy" had an excellent 2003 (1.70 ERA) and an awful 2005 (5.89 ERA).
This season, Cormier is carrying a 1.36 ERA in 33 innings over 42 games. Opponents are hitting just .216 against him. One thing for sure – Cormier is durable, averaging 62 appearances over the last seven seasons.
Option "DD" - David Dellucci
The reserve outfielder might be traded instead of Burrell or Abreu or could be slated to take over as a regular if one of the two is moved.
Despite career-highs in home runs (29) and RBI (65) in Texas last season, the 32-year old lefty lost his job and was sent to the Phils as spring training ended. Dellucci has continued to handle right-handed pitchers well (.327), but has only four at-bats against lefties this season.
Hixson highlights other Phillies who could be available. "If it's pitching you want, there's Jon Lieber and Cory Lidle, who could be both be had pretty cheap. Pretty much anyone in the bullpen would be a possibility too, even closer Tom Gordon."
Lidle and Lieber could be cast into the Marquis, Suppan, Weaver free-agent, back-of-the-rotation mix. But, neither looks to provide any tangible edge come post-season.
Lidle, an eight-year veteran, will be a free agent after the season, and is coming off a two-year, $6.3 million contract. Lidle's career record is 77-69 with a 4.56 ERA. His 2006 mark is 7-7, 4.93.
Lieber has one more year remaining at $7.5 million on his current three-year deal. The 36-year old former Cub, Pirate and Yankee is also slightly over .500 in his career (120-111, 4.26), but has struggled in 2006. He missed a month due to a groin strain and has put up a line of 3-7, 5.55.
What might the Phils look for in return for any of these players?
Says Hixson, "The Phillies always want young pitching, but if there is a young third baseman who would be major league ready this year or next, the Phillies would certainly be interested there. We wouldn't really need to get an outfielder in exchange, because there are two on the team (Shane Victorino and Dellucci) who could step right into the lineup."
That part of the equation is mixed. The Cardinals, not deep in outfielders, would probably prefer to keep a Chris Duncan, for example. Their best third base trading chip, Travis Hanson, has struggled this season, having been demoted to Double-A Springfield.
The bottom line
Maybe the Cardinals will take on a mega-salary like Bobby Abreu or Pat Burrell brings. But, the nagging question remains whether such a deal will be best for the team both in 2006 and beyond.
There is no obvious answer. The only thing that seems likely is that there will be new questions to ask next week as the trade deadline comes and goes.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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