Charlie Manuel: "We're not as strong"

The Phillies have made a lot of changes to the roster this off-season and manager Charlie Manuel hopes they're not done. Manuel believes the Phillies need to stay busy to improve a team that he doesn't see as being as strong as it was when the 2005 season ended.

Charlie Manuel seems to think that the Phillies will have to continue to improve to compete in the Natinal League East. "Going in I would say we're not as strong as we were maybe at the end of the season because we still need some pitching," said Manuel from the Winter Meetings in Dallas.

That doesn't mean that he doesn't like the moves the club has made so far.

Manuel was especially happy to have Aaron Rowand join the club. "I watched him play a lot and this guy right here, he's a baseball player. He's the hard player.He's tough and he has leadership qualities," said Manuel of Rowand. "We've got a quality guy in Tom Gordon, too. I was very fortunate to have lunch with Tom and I got to know him. It's very easy to see why his career has been great and he's been a longevity pitcher because of his attitude and who he is. So, you know, we got back two pretty good guys," stressed Manuel.

Offensively, Manuel believes his club is set and looks forward to big things from Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard. Manuel believes that Howard compares favorably to Jim Thome in his work ethic and personality and that he'll succeed because of that. "Ryan Howard is a worker. He's determined. He likes to be there. He has fun playing and not only that, he has a lot of ability as a hitter," said Manuel. "He hits the ball a long way just like Jimmy does. He's got power to all fields. He's a good athlete."

Manuel also believes that eventually, Howard will hit left-handed pitching without much trouble. "Ryan hit left-handers in the Minor Leagues the two years I saw him. Eventually I know he's going to hit lefties in the big league."

While the Mets have been the most active club in the majors this off-season, Manuel isn't ready to hand them the division title in December. When asked if the Mets were the team to beat, Manuel stressed looking at the past. "Heard that (how somebody other than the Braves would be favored to win the NL East) about 13, 14 years - the Phillies are the team, Mets are the team, Marlins are the team. All those years somehow Atlanta finds a way to win and they've been there. Until they get dethroned, I guess you would say they're the champions of our division."

The Phillies are continuing to look for pitching to add to both the rotation and the bullpen for 2006. One of the concerns is a setup man for Gordon, a role that Ryan Madson may have to fill. "I look at him, he can do it and also. I'm intrigued, for some reason I like him as a starter," said Manuel. General Manager Pat Gillick has also mentioned putting Madson into the back end of the rotation and continuing to pursue help for in the bullpen."

One of the names mentioned as a possible setup man is former Mets closer Braden Looper, who is a free agent. The Phillies have approached Looper and will continue looking for other help for the pitching staff through the remaining free agents or possibly through trades.

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