We Didn't Want 'em Anyway

First, there was Alfonso Soriano, then Carlos Lee and now, Johnny Estrada. The Phillies were pursuing some pretty high priced and highly valued talent this off-season and have three swings and three misses. It's kind of like watching an at bat by Pat Burrell. Then again, maybe we should be glad that the Phillies didn't land any of these targets.

After seeing LF Alfonso Soriano, their top free agent target, agree to an eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs, the Phillies turned their attention to slugging free agent OF Carlos Lee. But they struck out on the count, too, as Lee signed a six-year, $100 million deal with the Astros.

The Phillies were willing to pay free agent Soriano the $17 million per season that he received from the Cubs.

Just not for eight years.

"It sounds like he got an offer he couldn't turn down," GM Pat Gillick said. "I'm happy for Alfonso. Dollar-wise, we're not uncomfortable with that. We're more uncomfortable with the length of the contract. If it's eight years, it's a long period of time."

During their pursuit of Soriano, the Phillies seemed to dismiss Lee, fearing his size (6-foot-2, 235 pounds) and below-average defensive ability made him better suited to be a DH in the American League. But Gillick said that Lee is a better athlete than he gets credit for and cited as evidence his 19 stolen bases last season.

If you need proof on why the Phillies - or the Cubs for that matter - shouldn't have given Soriano the money that they did, think Alex Rodriguez and the Texas Rangers. Not that Rodriguez has been a slouch, but keep in mind that after signing him, the Rangers were handcuffed to make other moves to improve the team, not just because of the money, but because of the years involved. Even now, the Yankees would have a difficult time dealing Rodriguez because of that contract that the Rangers thought would be the one that would put them over the top.

With Gillick's talk of financial flexibility, there is no way that a contract like Soriano's would have fit. Sure, Gillick will likely be gone and possibly headed to the Hall of Fame by the time the deal would be completed, but he was forward thinking enough to realize that a deal like that for Soriano wouldn't have left a very pretty legacy in Philadelphia, World Series championship or not.

Remember too, that Soriano has some warts. They're well hidden, but they're there. Somebody got a hold of Soriano and taught him all the right things to say. He turned from a brooding, unhappy outfield convert in Spring Training to a happy camper, who confessed his love for Washington and the fans of that city all just in time to end the season looking like a hero. The truth is that there have been "issues" with Soriano everywhere he played and Chicago may not be much different after the honeymoon ends.

Lee had the best overall offensive numbers of his career this past season at age 30. It's funny how that happens for players like Soriano and Lee when they're in the final year of a contract.

In the case of Estrada, the Phillies simply didn't want to match the trade offer that Milwaukee served up to the D'backs. If the Phillies were in more desperate need of catching, perhaps they would have pulled the trigger on a deal that would have looked something like Gavin Floyd, Chris Roberson and Brett Myers for the package of players that the Brewers got in the deal. The truth is that Arizona did ask about Myers and that's when the Phillies cooled on the deal.

So, with the biggest of the bats off the free agent market and a pretty sweet catcher gone too, where do the Phillies turn? Possibly, within.

GM Pat Gillick confessed that he recently visited maligned LF Pat Burrell at his Arizona home and emerged confident Burrell will return to his 2005 form.

Burrell, 30, contributed 29 home runs and 95 RBIs last season but disappointed the Phillies with a .222 average with runners in scoring position. He also was a defensive liability because of a right foot problem that wasn't corrected with surgery in October 2005.

"He's really committed to getting himself ready to play," Gillick said. "He thinks he's going to be back to where he was."

In 2005, Burrell was a proven power hitter, batting .281 with 32 homers and 117 RBIs and finishing seventh in the NL MVP voting. But the Phils would still like to trade Burrell, the first overall pick in the 1998 draft. Burrell is owed $27 million over the next two seasons and would have to waive his full no-trade clause, but some team officials believe there will be demand for him once the free agent market is exhausted.

Gillick's visit seems all too neat and tidy for comfort. Odds are that the visit was more of a feeling out process to determine just where Burrell might agree to go in a deal and for Gillick to bounce some potential locations off of the once highly touted superstar-to-be. Gillick's comments serve well to provide a bit of encouragement to teams that may consider trading for Burrell's services.

The big news this off-season has been the addition of Wes Helms, although odds are that we won't be saying that as the Phillies head south for Spring Training early in 2007.

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