Phils' Off-Season All About Soriano

The Phillies will be aggressive in pursuing free agent Alfonso Soriano. The problem is where he would play and how they'll afford him if they can't deal Pat Burrell.

With a month remaining before the winter meetings, it's becoming clear the Phillies are targeting a specific player as their top offseason priority:

Alfonso Soriano.

The Phillies can't make an official offer to Soriano until Sunday, but they already have started discussing a strategy for landing the slugging outfielder. General manager Pat Gillick will meet with his inner circle next week to plot a specific proposal.

Soriano, 28, batted .277 with 46 home runs, 95 RBIs and 41 stolen bases for the Nationals last season. Throughout his career, Soriano has been primarily a leadoff hitter, but he would bat in the middle of the Phillies' lineup and offer the needed protection for slugging first baseman Ryan Howard.

A report in the Washington Post last week suggested Soriano is seeking a contract similar to the seven-year, $119 million deal Carlos Beltran got from the Mets before the 2005 season.

The Mets and the Angels are believed to be among Soriano's most aggressive suitors.

Soriano likely would play left field for the Phillies, who continue to shop Pat Burrell. If the Phillies can sign Soriano but aren't able to unload Burrell, who is owed $27 million over the next two seasons, Soriano could play right field.

The Nationals have exclusive negotiating rights with Soriano through November 11, although Soriano isn't expected to re-sign with Washington.

Notes from Philly...

  • CF Aaron Rowand and the Phillies have declined their respective options for 2007, but that doesn't mean he'll be playing elsewhere. Rowand remains under the Phillies' control and will be arbitration-eligible. The sides likely will agree on a salary between Rowand's $3.25 million option and the Phillies' $5 million option.

    Rowand, 29, batted .262 with 12 home runs and 47 RBIs in 2006 but was limited to 109 games by two severe injuries, including a broken left ankle Aug. 21 that required season-ending surgery. His signature moment came May 11 when he crashed face-first into the center-field wall to make a catch, breaking his nose, left cheek bone and orbital bones. At the time of the injury, he was batting .310. He batted .240 for the rest of the season.

  • Japanese 3B Akinori Iwamura is expected to play in the majors next season, and the Phillies have expressed an interest in signing him.

    Iwamura, 27, is a left-handed hitter who has spent the past few seasons with the Yakult Swallows of the Central League. According to Japanball.com, he batted .311 with 32 home runs, 77 RBIs and a .389 on-base percentage last season.

    Phillies GM Pat Gillick has a history of bidding for Japanese players. As GM of the Mariners, Gillick brought over RHP Kaz Sasaki in 2000 and OF Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.

  • If the Phillies want to trade for slugging RF Gary Sheffield from the Yankees, they may have to pony up pitching.

    The Yankees reportedly are making pitching their top priority and could be interested in reacquiring Phillies RHP Jon Lieber. After the 2004 season, the Yankees let Lieber get away via free agency and have expressed regret over that decision. But Lieber, 36, went 9-11 with a 4.93 ERA in 2006, his worst full season in the majors, and drew criticism for being out of shape. He also is due to make $7.5 million in 2007.

  • Seven of nine eligible Phillies had filed for free agency through November 3. LHP Randy Wolf, C Mike Lieberthal, LHP Aaron Fultz, RHP Rick White and LHP Arthur Rhodes filed on October 28, the first day players were eligible to declare their intentions. INF Jose Hernandez filed on October 31, and OF David Dellucci filed on November 2. That left only 1B Randall Simon and INF Alex S. Gonzalez, who announced his retirement in May.

    Of those players, the Phillies have expressed an interest in re-signing Wolf to round out their rotation. Lieberthal and Rhodes are the most likely to play elsewhere next season.


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