Could Polanco's Return Mean Someone Else Exits?

For the second season in a row, the Phillies were seemingly burned by an arbitration offer that they hoped wouldn't be accepted. Placido Polanco accepted arbitration Sunday and is considered signed by the Phillies for next season. It is also very likely that he will get at least $5 million either through agreeing to a contract or through arbitration. That's a high price for a guy who is figured on to be a platoon player at best. It may mean that another player will be sacrificed to clear salary.

The Phillies have benefitted from salary dumps in the past; at least we all thought at the time that they benefitted. It was the winter of 2002 and the Braves needed to clear some salary. They shipped Kevin Millwood to the Phillies for Johnny Estrada. At the time, we all laughed at what Atlanta had done for a division rival. Now, we're still chewing on the crow that we are eating for those few chuckles.

Last offseason, the Astros needed some salary room and sent Billy Wagner to the Phillies for a band of prospects. We still love that deal, even though Wagner was hurt much of last season and had what was for him, a sub-par season.

Now, the Phillies may be the one looking to dump some salary. Placido Polanco accepted the team's offer of arbitration, meaning that he is considered signed and will likely cost the Phillies $5 million or more. That's a hefty price tag for a utility player. Plus, it's the second time in a row that an arbitration offer has led to the Phillies busting their budget.

So, where can the Phillies dump some salary?

The first opportunity would come right away. Players who are arbitration eligible, but haven't qualified for free agency yet must be offered a contract for 2005 today (December 20) or they become free agents. Vicente Padilla, Randy Wolf and Jimmy Rollins all fit that description. Don't expect any of them to be non-tendered. Padilla would be the only possibility and that would only be if the Phillies have extreme concerns about his health, which they insist they don't.

Of course, the Phillies could deal one of those players and again, Padilla is the likely first choice. If he really is healthy, there may be takers for the right-hander and in fact, a change of scenery might help his career along. Dealing Padilla might seem the best option if the Phillies do decide that they need to clear some salary room.

David Bell could be offered around. The third baseman is coming off a season where he was pretty healthy and put up solid numbers. Still, there are some lingering concerns about his back and Polanco could step in at third base. The draw back is that the Phillies would then likely be desperate for a third baseman next offseason, but they can worry about that then.

Another option would be to step up their efforts to deal Pat Burrell or Mike Lieberthal. Dealing either would be tough because of their large salaries and in the case of Lieberthal, a no-trade clause. The Dodgers are interested in Lieberthal and he is interested in playing in Los Angeles. With the Dodgers throwing big names around as part of the Randy Johnson deal, maybe getting Mike Lieberthal in there as part of some package would be possible. Not likely though, since Ed Wade isn't wired to pull off multi-team trades. Perhaps though after the Johnson deal either goes through or dies, the Phillies and Dodgers could come up with a deal that works for both sides.

Dealing Burrell would appear to make room for slugger Ryan Howard. If Howard isn't ready, Jason Michaels could take over if necessary. Burrell has a pretty heavy contract though and hasn't put up the kind of numbers that the Phillies were looking for when they threw all that money his way.

The Phillies could also do nothing. They ate Millwood's $11 million last season and might swallow Polanco's $5 million this year. They could also wait. A team just might be looking for a Placido Polanco during the season and would take him off the Phillies hands, giving the Phillies a better deal than they may be able to get right now for one of the other players. Actually, all of the potential deals could be more attractive for other teams if the Phillies wait and see how things play out. Of course, if the Phillies stumble in 2005, there may be more than just one player leaving town.

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