Phillies Keeping an Eye on New Yorkers

If there's one team the Phillies are keeping an eye on this free agent season, it's the Yankees. The Phils have two high profile priorities this winter: starting pitching and center field. In both cases, how they address those needs could hinge to some extent on what the Yankees do.

Take center field, for instance. General manager Ed Wade would love to have Carlos Beltran. Who wouldn't? He even had a conversation with agent Scott Boras at the general managers' meetings in Key Biscayne, Florida, about the most coveted free agent available.

The reality, however, is that the Phillies probably can't afford him, especially if the free-spending Yankees join the bidding, as expected.

If the Yankees sign Beltran, however, that leaves both Kenny Lofton and Bernie Williams without a role in the Bronx. And the Phillies can be expected to take a run at trading for Lofton.

That would be especially appealing if New York agrees to take on some of his $3.1 million salary for 2005.

With the Phillies, Lofton could platoon with Jason Michaels, or the Phillies also might look into signing another free agent to pair with Lofton.

The Yankees are also squarely in the middle of the Phillies' pitching discussions.

Eric Milton led the Phillies with 14 wins last season. But he's a free agent and reportedly has been targeted by the Yankees. Even if the Yankees don't sign Milton, they are reportedly trying to dump Kevin Brown. He's a pitcher the Phillies could be interested in, but only if the Yankees pick up a large portion of his $15 million salary.

There are upsides to acquiring Brown. He's a veteran who has played on winning teams. When he's at his best, he throws a hard, sinking fastball, and the Phillies are on the lookout for groundball pitchers now that they realize what a shooting gallery Citizens Bank Park is. And, Brown only has one year left on his contract.

The downsides: Brown is 40 years old and was plagued by back problems much of last season. He's also known as a temperamental player who helped wear out his welcome in New York by breaking his left hand when he punched a wall in a fit of frustration in September.

Postcards from Philly:
  • Rich Dubee was tabbed as the Phillies pitching coach. Dubee, held that position for the Florida Marlins and was the pitching coach at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Dubee will be joined on the staff by Marc Bombard, his boss at AAA Scranton. Bombard will become the Phillies first base coach, with Milt Thompson taking over the reins as hitting coach. Bill Dancy was hired to be the major league third base coach, replacing John Vukovich.
  • Randy Wolf had surgery to repair nerve damage on his landing foot. He's expected to be fully recovered by spring training.
  • Jason Michaels and Marlon Byrd have declined the team's strong recommendation to play winter ball this year.
  • Ryan Howard, a slugger whose path to the big leagues is blocked by All-Star Jim Thome, has been the target of several teams. The Phillies' asking price is high, however.
  • David Coggin and Eric Junge, once considered strong prospects, have been released.
He said what? "We have to look at things realistically. We've made commitments to players that doesn't allow us to have unlimited ability to do things. In order for us to operate at the top of the free agent market, we'd have to move some other contracts." - General manager Ed Wade, explaining why the Phillies aren't expected to bid for the best free agent this winter.

Roster Update

The Phillies entered the off-season with nine free agents. While they didn't have the same kind of money to spend as they have the last two seasons, when big-ticket acquisitions such as Jim Thome raised the payroll to a franchise-record $93 million, they are expected to pursue mid-level free agents and trades to fill in around the existing nucleus.

ARRIVALS: Cory Lidle signed a two-year contract to return to the Phillies.

DEPARTURES: None.

BIGGEST NEEDS: Starting pitching and center field are the two priorities as the Phillies anticipate having to replace Eric Milton and Kevin Millwood, both free agents, in the rotation. Getting two starters would enable the team to give RHP Gavin Floyd more developmental time at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and leave Ryan Madson in the bullpen where he thrived in last season. General manager Ed Wade also needs at least one left-hander in the bullpen and would like to add depth at catcher and shortstop.

FREE AGENTS: LHP Rheal Cormier, CF Doug Glanville, RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Todd Jones, RHP Kevin Millwood, LHP Eric Milton, 2B Placido Polanco, C Todd Pratt.

The Phillies made offers to Milton and Lidle during the period when they had exclusive rights to negotiate with their own players. Milton is still testing the water, but Lidle signed a two-year, $6.3 million deal to keep him in Philly through the 2006 season. The Phillies seem resigned to being outbid for Milton. They are also interested in keeping Cormier and Pratt. Polanco will be replaced as the regular second baseman by Chase Utley but could return as a utility player, a role he previously had with the Cardinals, if he can't find a team that needs him as a starter. They have little or no interest in Millwood, Hernandez and Jones, and Glanville is on the bubble.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: OF Jason Michaels, RHP Vicente Padilla, SS Jimmy Rollins, RHP Amaury Telemaco.

Rollins, coming off his best season, could be rewarded with his first long-term contract. Padilla has electric stuff, but that hasn't translated into consistent success. Since he's in his second year of eligibility and coming off an injury-interrupted season, this could be a bitterly contested negotiation. Michaels and Telemaco are considered valuable role players, but not at any price.

IN LIMBO: Marlon Byrd is very available as the Phillies openly shop for his replacement. The Phillies could consider offers for Padilla, who made $2.6 million but is just five games over .500 for the last three years. There have been reports that the team would consider dealing Mike Lieberthal (who will make $15 million over the next two years) and Pat Burrell ($43.5 million over the next four years) to free up salary, but both can veto a trade even if there were teams willing to take on their contracts.

MEDICAL WATCH: Randy Wolf (elbow tendinitis) ended the season on the disabled list. He also had surgery to repair nerve damage in his foot on November 9 but is expected to be fully recovered by spring training. Pat Burrell, after an MRI and an ultrasound on his left wrist, has decided against having surgery. Burrell sprained the wrist in August, and it was at first believed he would need an operation to repair a subluxing tendon.

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