Names Change In Phils, Sox Talks

The Phillies and Red Sox seemed close to a deal a couple of times this off-season, but so far, there hasn't been a press conference. While the names Bobby Abreu, Manny Ramirez and Matt Clement were the featured names in those talks, there are new names for both sides to consider in the most recent round of swap talk.

Some message boards lit up last week with word of an impending Manny Ramirez for Bobby Abreu deal. It was the latest round of speculation that the Phillies and Red Sox were close to making a deal. The fact is that the two sides have talked a lot this off-season about potential deals and the names Ramirez and Abreu have generally been part of the discussions. Now though, it appears that a potential swap involving either of those players is far from getting done, but the two sides keep talking.

The latest focus originates from Boston and their need for a center fielder. For a while, it looked like the Red Sox and Mariners would match up on a deal to bring Jeremy Reed to Boston to fill the gaping hole left by Johnny Damon. In fact, like the Ramirez and Abreu rumors, there have been various times this off-season when it appeared that there would be a cross-country swap between Seattle and Boston, but nothing has materialized. Now, the talks to get Reed have ended and the two teams have ended all of their discussions. Like an old flame that you just can't get rid of, the Red Sox got back in touch with the Phillies.

The focus is Jason Michaels, who on Monday avoided arbitration and signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Phillies. Michaels' signing takes away some of the guess work as to how much he would cost the Red Sox, although that was never a major stumbling block. The fact that Reed appears out of the picture though has the Sox interested in Michaels to play center field, possibly on an everyday basis. The fact that Boston is interested in Michaels is no surprise. His name has also been bandied back and forth between the two clubs this winter and the Red Sox are admittedly intrigued by what Michaels may be able to do in their lineup. Plus, a good word from Terry Francona hasn't hurt the Sox interest in Michaels either.

In the latest discussions, the Red Sox are asking for Michaels and a prospect in exchange for pitcher David Wells. Like Ramirez, Wells wants out of Boston and ideally, wants to wind up back on the West Coast. While Philadelphia doesn't fit geographically, they have the means to make Wells' wish come true. Another team that has spent a lot of time talking with the Phillies is the Los Angeles Dodgers. The two teams have talked on a number of occasions and are talking again. In fact, the Dodgers, Phillies and Red Sox could wind up on a conference call swapping players or the Phillies could simply get Wells from Boston and then turn around and deal him to Los Angeles almost immediately after that deal would be announced.

The talks with the Dodgers focus on Wells and catcher Mike Lieberthal, who also has an interest in playing on the West Coast, headed to the Dodgers in exchange for pitching. The Phillies had talked to the Dodgers about Brad Penny and Derek Lowe back at the winter meetings and there may be more discussions again. The Dodgers are interested in Lieberthal and are interested in the possibility of adding Wells to their staff. Lieberthal has a no-trade clause, but would reportedly waive the clause to wind up playing for Los Angeles. The Dodgers are interested in Lieberthal partially because he is in the last year of his contract and they wouldn't likely need a catcher for longer than that since they have young catcher Russell Martin pushing his way to the majors. Most experts believe that Martin will be ready for the majors by mid-season and certainly will be ready after the 2006 season. There are also young pitchers coming along, so the fact that Wells is also in the last year of his contract doesn't bother the Dodgers either. Plus, Wells is guaranteed only $2.5 million for 2006, but does have plenty of incentives built into the contract.

Brad Penny and Derek Lowe are both signed through 2008 and Penny has an option year for 2009 on his deal. The total commitment to Penny comes to $25 million over three years without the option year and $32.25 million if the option year is picked up. He also has a limited no-trade clause giving him the right to list five teams that he would not go to and reportedly, the Phillies are not on that list, meaning that the Dodgers could work the deal without concerns that Penny would block it. As for Lowe, he is owed $28.5 million over the next three years with no option year on his contract. Lowe does not have a no-trade clause in his deal.

The swapping would start with the Phillies and Red Sox. Since the Phillies have had interest in Kelly Shoppach, he could be included as some part of the deal, with the two teams expanding the list of players. In other words, it may turn out to be Michaels and a top prospect - perhaps Giovany Gonzalez - to Boston for Wells and Shoppach. The Phillies would then ship Wells and Lieberthal - who is owed $7.5 million for 2006 - to Los Angeles for either Lowe or Penny and some financial relief. It's possible that the Dodgers could also send a prospect to the Phillies as part of the deal. If Lieberthal were to exit, the Phillies would then have Shoppach, free agent signee Sal Fasano and AAA catcher Carlos Ruiz to fight for a spot as the starting catcher in spring training. The Phillies would likely be content to come into the season with a Fasano and Ruiz platoon, so Shoppach wouldn't have to be included in the deal.

There are other possible scenarios being discussed, including the teams hooking up in some combination on a three-team deal with possibly an expanded number of players moving from town-to-town. The bottom line in all of the scenarios is that the Phillies would wind up with either Lowe or Penny - they're leaning toward Penny - and would lose Michaels and Lieberthal in the exchange. A three-team swap might work, since the Phillies may be able to get the Dodgers to send a prospect to Boston rather than having to send one of their own prospects to the Red Sox. It's possible that Shoppach could come to Philly as part of the deal, easing the blow of losing one of their better prospects.

The Phillies are leaning toward Penny primarily because they believe that he's healthy and since he's five years younger, is the better gamble. Penny had some injury concerns, but appeared to be healthy later in the season last year. Lowe, who turns 33 next June, had a good season with the Dodgers, after struggling in his last couple of seasons in Boston.

In an unrelated note, the Phillies have put a one-year, $750,000 deal on the table for infielder Russ Branyan. It's possible that Branyan would platoon with David Bell at third base, playing against right-handed pitchers. Branyan hit .280 and had all 12 of his homeruns against right-handers last season, while Bell hit .400 against left-handers. If you were to combine the splits totals for Branyan and Bell in 2005, you would have a total production of 16 homeruns, 57 RBI and a .331 average. Over the last three seasons, Bell has hit left-handers at a .311 pace, while Branyan has hit right-handed pitchers at a .249 pace. Branyan's arrival might signal the end of Tomas Perez' career in Philadelphia. While he's popular in the clubhouse, Perez hasn't contributed with the kind of numbers that the Phillies would like to see from him off the bench. Abraham Nunez, who signed with the Phillies as a free agent early in the off-season, and is a switch-hitter, could spell Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley in the middle infield, essentially taking over the role that Perez had played for the Phillies. Branyan's arrival would make the Phillies very heavily left-handed at the plate.

As mentioned earlier, the Phillies avoided arbitration with Michaels, agreeing to a one-year, $1.5 million deal. Michaels was the last of the arbitration eligible Phillies to sign a deal. Last week, Brett Myers signed for $3.3 million and last month, Aaron Fultz signed for $1.2 million.


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