The Phillies Insider

The Phillies hoped that they would still be playing now, instead of letting other teams battle their way through the postseason. Since it didn't work out the way they figured, the Phillies have turned their attention to how they can improve so they're not sitting home this time next year.

The Phillies had hoped to make it to the playoffs this season. Since they didn't, they ended up holding their organizational meetings in Florida while the Cubs and Marlins were starting the National League Championship Series.

The primary topic of discussion was strengthening the pitching.

Closer Jose Mesa is gone and the rest of the bullpen must be completely rebuilt. And while general manager Ed Wade continues to reiterate his position that re-signing RHP Kevin Millwood is a priority, almost nobody expects that to happen. So there has to be a fallback position.

The Phillies, who bumped their payroll to $73 million last year in anticipation of moving into brand new Citizen's Bank Park in 2004, should have some money to spend. Millwood and Mesa combined to make $14.6 million last year and, beyond that, there is some room for the payroll to grow moderately.

Still, they are expected to examine trade options before plunging into the free agent market.

A couple of intriguing rumors involving possible closers who might become available have begun to circulate.

Angels RHP Troy Percival and Astros RHP Billy Wagner are both a year away from being eligible for free agency, and there is some thought one or both could be traded.

Failing that, there are some attractive names who could be free agents this winter, including RHPs Keith Foulke, Eddie Guardado and Tim Worrell.

But Wade needs more than a closer. With the anticipated departures of LHPs Dan Plesac and Valerio De Los Santos along with RHPs Turk Wendell and Mike Williams, plus the possibility that RHP Terry Adams could sign elsewhere, there are plenty of holes to fill. And the Phillies have made it clear in recent years that they prefer veterans to fill those roles.

They are believed to be the frontrunners to sign free agent RHP Tom Gordon, who has a good relationship with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan from the seasons they were together in Boston.

Another interesting name is RHP LaTroy Hawkins. Both would most likely be penciled in as setup men, but both have also had experience closing.

To fill the possible opening at the top of the rotation, they are expected to approach the Expos about RHP Javier Vazquez and the Diamondbacks about RHP Curt Schilling.

Vazquez' availability will depend to an extent on what kind of payroll Montreal general manager Omar Minaya is given to work with. Unless he's forced to move Vazquez for financial reasons, the price to trade for him would be steep.

The Diamondbacks have already announced that they plan to reduce their payroll next season. Schilling, the one-time Phillies ace who still maintains a home in the Philadelphia area, would be a logical acquisition.

If a trade isn't possible, the Phillies could be expected to look at free agents like RHPs Bartolo Colon, Sidney Ponson and LHP Andy Pettitte.

The big number...19.85 million: As in the dollars the Phillies will take off the payroll if they don't re-sign free agents Kevin Millwood, Dan Plesac and Turk Wendell, plus the already accomplished exit of Jose Mesa.

He said what? "He would be available for the right price. Are we shopping him? No. Are we dumping him? No. But we would entertain a legitimate deal. If people are interested, we would listen to what they have to say." -- Expos assistant general manager Tony Siegle, on whether his team would consider trading RHP Javier Vazquez, who tops the Phillies offseason wish list.

The doctor is in: Third baseman David Bell played only two games after July 10 because of a herniated disk in his back. The Phillies hope that he will be fully recovered by spring training... RHP Terry Adams had five bone chips and a bone spur in his elbow removed by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala. He's expected to be fully recovered by spring training... RHP David Coggin (shoulder surgery) has been shut down with renewed soreness. He hopes to be fully recovered by spring training... Center fielder Marlon Byrd underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the posterior labrum in his left shoulder and is expected to be ready for spring training.

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