Trade Picture is Taking Shape

With the all-star break over and teams headed back to work on the field, some of the most important work will take place off the field. Rest assured that general managers were huddled in the nooks and crannies of Minute Maid Park and surrounding hotels during the break. Players names were rolling off tongues with varied responses from the other members of those secret discussions. With all that in mind, let's round up the potential new Phillies as best we can.

The talk of the Phillies looking for a center fielder has slowed greatly. Carl Crawford is apparently off of the Phillies' radar and if there is a move for a center fielder, it would likely be a Kenny Lofton type deal for a rented player who would presumably return the job to Marlon Byrd - remember him? - after the season. Steve Finley is still a possibility, but he is looking more longingly at returning to San Diego and the Padres are reportedly very interested in bringing him to town. Brad Wilkerson's name was out there, but has faded. Montreal might not be sold on dealing their developing star and the Phillies might not figure that he's the kind of guy that they want to add to the lineup. He has a habit of hurting the Phillies, so that would be a plus, but there are bigger concerns for the Phillies to address. It's looking more and more like the Phillies either really will return Byrd to the majors at some point or will settle for Jason Michaels, Ricky Ledee and Doug Glanville to play in the deepest recesses of Citizens Bank Park.

Talk of veteran relievers isn't too lively either. Part of the bullpen problem was the fact that they were stretched thin by injuries to relievers and the added pressure applied by starters who couldn't get through enough innings to allow the bullpen a fitting rest. Steve Kline has been mentioned, but mainly just as a part of a bigger trade with St.Louis. That trade, sending Placido Polanco and Kevin Millwood to the Cardinals for Matt Morris and Kline is apparently dead, having been rejected by the Cardinals. St.Louis would love to have Polanco back, so it's possible that the deal will be reworked and could resurface at some time in the not too distant future.

No, the focus now appears to be on getting a new starting pitcher for the last half of the season.

Let's start at the top. Randy Johnson admitted that he would accept a trade to a contending team if the Diamondbacks were to arrange one. That set the cell phones on fire. You have to believe that the Yankees and Red Sox were the first in line, with Anaheim falling in place next. Did the Phillies even bother to get in line? Not very likely. Johnson's price tag may be too high. The only way that a deal might come to pass would be if Arizona agreed to accept Kevin Millwood as part of the package. There is approximately $5 million difference between Johnson and Millwood for this season, meaning that the Phillies would add about $2.5 million to their payroll for the rest of the season. That might be doable, but Johnson's $16 million price tag for next season is tough. Don't figure that the Phillies will become players for Johnson.

Livan Hernandez? The guy eats innings, which would be great for the Phillies. He also has a reasonable contract, which isn't great for the Phillies. Why? Because that reasonable contract may be a huge part of the reason why the Expos might not deal Hernandez. With their budget concerns, Montreal has to love cheap players, especially someone like Hernandez who can give them innings. At the very least, Montreal will demand a high price for Hernandez if they do deal him.

Kris Benson's name has been floating around. Benson must have realized that he can be a free agent at the end of the season and has been pitching well of late after a slow start. He's not a top of the rotation starter in the mold of Johnson or Hernandez, but he's pretty good, has a reasonable contract for the rest of the season and might be able to help the Phillies rotation. Since he is a free agent, the Phillies would have a decision to make much like they had last season when they decided to offer Millwood arbitration. That problem would be for another time though. For now, Benson might help the Phillies win. The price to get Benson wouldn't be in the range of Johnson or Hernandez either, which helps. Baseball America recently reported that the Phillies and Pirates are considering a Benson for Ryan Howard deal.

Add two more names to the possible roster of the not too distant future. Kip Wells and Derek Lowe.

Wells and Lowe have both struggled at times this season. Wells (4-6, 4.71) has struggled with consistency. He started the season going 2-3, 2.97 in April. May saw his monthly ERA go to 5.20 and June saw him in the 7.50 neighborhood. Even in both of those months though, Wells showed signs of coming around with at least one good outing. In July, Wells has gone 1-1, 2.45 in two starts. It will be interesting to see how he comes back from the break.

Lowe could be a dark horse in the Phillies trade sweepstakes. Lowe (7-8, 5.57) has been struggling for Boston. Basically, the team is disappointed, the fans are disappointed and Lowe is disappointed. If you want to know what Lowe's season has been like, think Kevin Millwood. Here's the catch though. While Millwood hasn't always embraced the ideas of pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, Lowe did while Kerrigan was employed by the Red Sox. In fact, Lowe had his best seasons under Kerrigan's guidance. Keep that in mind because it could definitely come into play. Word is that the Phillies have had Kerrigan look at tape of Lowe to determine if he could fix what's ailing the 31 year old right-hander. Now, consider too that Boston might consider swapping Lowe for Millwood in a deal that would give both pitchers a change of scenery and hopes of turning around their seasons.

The potential fly in the ointment would be Boston's other potential trade interests. With Boston focusing on Johnson - even if for no other reason than to keep him away from the Yankees - they are looking at how to afford the big lefty. One scenario is shipping Nomar Garciaparra elsewhere and getting prospects in exchange to save money. Millwood is still owed approximately $5.5 million this season, while Lowe is set for a little over $2 million. That's added payroll that the Red Sox might not want to take on. If Johnson to Boston doesn't work out though, the Red Sox might try the change of scenery approach, swapping Lowe for Millwood.

With the trade deadline just over two weeks away, things are getting serious. The Phillies have a team that contend, but obviously needs some late season help if they're going to win. In fact, the NL East may come down to which team makes the best moves to improve their clubs at the deadline. The wheeling has officially begun, now, it's time for the dealing to commence.

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