It's Not All About The Pitching

Pitching, pitching, pitching. It's on every team's post-season wish list. So, with pitching being scarce, why not look outside the box - or outside the mound, if you will? There's a more pressing need for the Phillies this winter.

The Phillies know that they have Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and Jon Lieber back next season if they want them. Odds are that they do want them and that they'll all return. Then, they have Randy Wolf and Jamie Moyer - both free agents - who they likely have the inside track on re-signing if they're interested. Odds are that they'll re-sign one of them.

After that, there are some question marks, but there are also a lot of young pitchers who could potentially fill a fifth spot in the rotation. There are also always number five guys floating around as relatively cheap free agents or trade bait.

In other words, the rotation is workable, with just a little bit of work. The bullpen is another story.

The Phillies will have to completely realign the bullpen if they're going to be successful next season. There are some potential keepers - Tom Gordon, Matt Smith, Ryan Madson - who can fill certain spots, but there are also a lot of question marks and a lot of work to be done.

Even with all of the work to be done to revamp the bullpen - again - there is a more pressing need. If you watched the final month of the season, you saw it. Ryan Howard doesn't surprise opposing teams anymore. They've given up. They know that not only can he beat them if given the chance, but he will beat them if given the chance. So, they don't give him the chance. If there were a big bat behind Howard, that could all change.

"Your priority may be pitching, but you might have to settle for something else," said GM Pat Gillick after Sunday's season finale.

One thought is to move Chase Utley to the number five spot in the order, right behind Howard. Not a bad idea, but it still gives opposing teams the option of bringing in a lefty and letting him in to face both Howard and Utley. If there were a right-handed bat to put there, it would make life a little more interesting.

The biggest bat available through free agency this winter could be Alfonso Soriano. You put that bat behind Ryan Howard and you've covered a huge hole. Will teams want to pitch around Howard to face Soriano? Heck, against a right-handed starter, you could put Soriano third and Utley fifth if you were so inclined. Those three hitting back-to-back-to-back would be fun.

Soriano could play left field with Pat Burrell either being dealt elsewhere, as has often been mentioned, or with somebody moving to right. Heck, Soriano gave in and moved to left for 2006, maybe he'd make another move for 2007. Putting Soriano's power and speed behind Howard could ignite a huge spark in the Phillies' offense. A longer shot to fit Soriano into the lineup would be to put Soriano at second and have Utley move to third, but that seriously weakens the infield defense. The key would be to deal Burrell elsewhere, most likely to an American League team where he could DH.

"You don't find guys with that type of power, those run-producers," Gillick said of Burrell. "Hopefully, we can help him find the key and turn things around. Pat Burrell is with us. He's got two more years. He's a power hitter." Then again, plans can change. Who knows, maybe Burrell will finally click and he could become the bat that the Phillies need, but that's hard to bank on. Maybe a move to third in the order, putting Burrell ahead of Howard and Utley would help, too.

Financially, the Phillies have the money to get Soriano and still eat at least a chunk of Burrell's contract, so the finances can be made to work. "Let me put it this way: We'll have the money to go out and get somebody," Gillick said. "If we think it's a wise expenditure, we'll make it. We're not going to spend it just to spend high dollar. We're going to do what we think makes sense for us in '07 and past '07."

With pitching in short supply, the Phillies might be putting a chunk of their money elsewhere and if they can get a powerful bat to put behind Ryan Howard, it could be a better investment.

Another scenario to watch is just down I-95. Keep your eyes fixed on Baltimore. The Phillies and Orioles had a deal worked out to send Burrell south during the season, but Burrell nixed the deal. Even though he insists that he wants to stay in Philly, the constant booing may change Burrell's mind. The Orioles have Miguel Tejada to dangle and a blockbuster deal that would send Burrell and some young pitching to Baltimore for Tejada could be a possibility. One catch would be convincing Tejada to move to third, a move that he has resisted in the past.

Whether it's Soriano, Tejada or someone else, the Phillies need to find the biggest bat possible to put behind Howard.

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