Relief Won't Come Cheap or Easy

Having struck out in his pursuit of slugging free agent LF Alfonso Soriano, Phillies GM Pat Gillick said the club probably would fill its need for relief pitching before securing a right-handed power hitter to protect 1B Ryan Howard in the lineup. But rebuilding a depleted bullpen won't be easy – or cheap - either.

Since the Cubs signed RHP Bobby Howry and LHP Scott Eyre to lucrative three-year contracts last winter, Gillick said the market for middle relievers has exploded. Already this off-season, the Angels have signed RHP Justin Speier (four years, $18 million) and the Orioles have practically cornered the market by signing RHP Danys Baez (three years, $19 million), LHP Jamie Walker (three years, $12 million) and RHP Chad Bradford (three years, $10.5 million).

"It kind of started last year when the two fellows, Howry and Eyre, signed in Chicago," Gillick said. "Everyone's eyebrows jumped on that one. It's been a good market for those players who pitch the sixth, seventh and eighth inning. It's interesting, I'll tell you that."

The Phillies were prepared to jump into the spending spree until medical reports changed their mind.

The Phillies were poised to offer RHP Joe Borowski a multi-year contract when team physicians raised concerns about the health of his shoulder after a physical exam. Borowski, 35, missed portions of the 2004 season because of a strained right shoulder.

Phillies GM Pat Gillick would not comment on the reports, citing regulations governing the confidentiality of medical records, and Borowski's Baltimore-based agents didn't return multiple calls.

The Phillies are still talking with Borowski about a one-year, incentive-laden deal. Borowski recorded 36 saves for the Marlins last season, and the Phillies see him as a possible setup man and insurance policy for closer Tom Gordon.

If they dismiss Borowski as an injury risk, the Phils may focus on free agent RHPs David Weathers or Miguel Batista. The Phillies have made their interest in Weathers well known and since he wasn't offered arbitration, they're likely to pursue him full speed. Batista was offered arbitration, likely making him more of a Plan B type of option for the Phillies.

Money won't be too big of an issue for the Phillies this off-season, but they're going to be careful where they throw their money. They have the flexibility to add some players after clearing salary at the trading deadline.

"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."

Certainly, the Phillies will talk to other clubs about dealing some relief pitchers their way, if they can agree on the right package. Pat Burrell is a large, but fairly unattractive piece of trade bait thanks to the size of his contract and his no-trade clause.

One intriguing name is Washington's Chad Cordero. The Nats have reportedly told teams that he's not untouchable, but that the price tag to get him would be pretty high. The Phillies are likely to ask just how high, but don't figure on a deal getting done. In fact, it's unlikely that the Nationals would deal Cordero anywhere, especially to a division rival.


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