CD's Connect The Dots...Life After Lowell

For but a brief shining moment, perhaps a bit over an hour, it appeared the Philadelphia Phillies would field the best infield in baseball in 2008. They thought they were about to sign free agent Mike Lowell to a deal worth a reported 50 million dollars. Alas, it was eventually to no avail and now the club is prepared to get on after Lowell.

The term "possum" has never been attributed to Phillie GM Pat Gillick but the two would have forever been linked had Mike Lowell surprised nearly everyone and signed with Philadelphia this week. For one thing, Gillick was insisting to anyone who would listen that he was focused entirely on "pitching, pitching and more pitching" and despite Lowell's powerful arm, there has been no hint that he is prepared to change positions at such a late stage of his career.

The other reason that few thought a Lowell-Phillie marriage was ever in the works was that the team's announced budget for '08 seemed to preclude such a weighty salary. Again, Gillick announced to any and all interested parties that he had about 10 million to spend and was prepared to use almost all of this money on acquiring a pitcher or two for his beleaguered staff.

Had Mike Lowell inked the reported four-year, 50 million dollar deal, it would undoubtedly have been back-loaded to cause as little financial pain as possible for the 2008 season but still would have required a thumbs up signal from management to increase the announced 105 million dollar player payroll figures for the upcoming campaign.

That Managing General Partner Dave Montgomery undoubtedly approved the potential payroll increase at all should be welcome news for a pennant starved populace of Phillie phanatics but it still remains to be seen if the Lowell offer was a special circumstance case of if the club has decided that the window of opportunity to win with this core group is a small one and all avenues must be studied in pursuit of a potential title berth.

Of course, this contract offer to Lowell begs the question if the Phils will now be prepared to transfer the money Aaron Rowand's way in hopes that the Phillies star centerfielder will ignore the advances of the Dodgers and White Sox and return to the team that seems to fit him best. Unfortunately, this does not appear the case at first glance and many people are beginning to prepare for life without Rowand unless he decides to do as Lowell did and accept less money to stay with the home team. In Aaron Rowand's case, not likely!

So, with Mike Lowell gone and Rowand potentially the next to exit stage left, the Phillies could soon be left with a huge hole in the middle of their order, a hole that demands a powerful right-handed bat to keep the lineup balanced. Oh, for public consumption the Phillies are saying all the right things about a platoon system with Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs at third base or Jayson Werth and Dobbs in right field but this arrangement begs the question of just how will Dobbs platoon with both right-handed hitters, Helms and Werth, at entirely different positions?

The reality is that he won't and no matter how satisfied the Phightins sound about their still talented offensive lineup, they will soon announce the acquisition of a starting third baseman, either through free agency [unlikely] or via the trade route [more likely]. In fact, logic dictates that even should the team reach agreement with Rowand on a long-term deal, which would allow the team to either A] move Shane Victorino back to right field where he belongs or B] trade Victorino for a starting pitcher, they will still be in the market for a starting third baseman for 2008.

Simply stated, Wes Helms has clearly declined as a player and would be better served as a pinch-hitter and occasional starting player. And even as valuable as Greg Dobbs proved last season, there is nothing in his past resume which would indicate that he is capable of being more than an occasional starting player who thrives best when used the least. The Phils seemed to use this mixture perfectly in 2007 and because of that Greg Dobbs was one of the best utility players in the National League. Expect more of the same next season no matter what the team is saying now.

With all this in mind, and with one last loud and collective sigh at the Mike Lowell near miss, let's examine who just might be on the Phillie hot corner radar screen in the next few months? Happily for the organization, there are few positions in baseball with a great plethora of potential candidates. Unhappily for the club, many of the best ones will either not be available or will cost more in talent and salary than the Phils are prepared to pay.

Certainly in that list would be such stalwarts as Miguel Cabrera of Florida, Scott Rolen of the Cardinals, and Garrett Atkins of Colorado. Each of them carries intriguing and captivating reasons why they would fit well in Philadelphia but each seems more "pipe dream" than reality for entirely different reasons.

In the case of potential superstar Miguel Cabrera, his price tag from the Florida Marlins includes a swap of no less than four stellar minor league prospects and the Phils don't seem to have enough top level talent to satisfy the Fish. Watch for Cabrera to be traded very soon however, most likely to the Los Angeles Angels.

Former Phillie star Scott Rolen will be moved from St. Louis but with his past disdain for Philadelphia and a full no-trade clause in his contract, there is no way Rolen accepts a return engagement to the City of Brotherly Love. Too bad, because if truth be told, he might find the current environment under Manager Charlie Manuel to be exactly what he is looking for after several years under the punishing and demanding glances of Larry Bowa and Tony LaRussa.

With Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to take the pressure off of Rolen, it might be the perfect fit for him, but his stubborn refusal to let bygones be bygones makes this deal an impossible one for either party. Expect Rolen to be moved to an American League club where he can be a designated hitter on the days when his aching back make it hard for him to play third base.

As for Garrett Atkins? Ah, now this is the player that the Phillies probably privately think about when they are contemplating a run for the pennant in 2008. Not only is Atkins at 27 a perfect fit for the core group of Phillie players, but he is a close friend and former college roommate of Chase Utley when they were at UCLA and was in fact the best man at Utley's marriage.

Still, the Colorado Rockies seem in no hurry to move the talented Atkins, regardless of the fact that they are now in possession of another hot shot third baseman named Ian Stewart. Stewart, a former number one draft pick in 2003, will play somewhere with the Rockies in 2008 but it seems more likely that he will be moved to the outfield than kept at third base.

While they may consider taking "feelers" for Garrett Atkins, it seems unlikely that they would move a player who has hit 54 home runs, driven in 231 runs and hit over .300 during the past two seasons combined. And, even if the Phils somehow did get the Rockies ear, they would undoubtedly ask for a package that might include Phillies top prospects like pitchers Carlos Carrasco, Kyle Drabek and Josh Outman as well as infielders Adrian Cardenas or Jason Donald.

While the Phils might consider moving a package of two of these top prospects, the Rocks would ask for three and that would effectively kill the deal. No, the Phils needn't bother considering a Rockie Mountain High trade with Colorado for Garrett Atkins as it just isn't going to happen.

With Cabrera, Rolen and Atkins effectively ruled out, the Phils might go to Plan B, which would include such players as Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada, Troy Glaus, Adrian Beltre, Morgan Ensberg or Pedro Feliz. In fact, rumors are strong that Mora is very much on the Phillies list now that Lowell has chosen the Boston Tea Party over Independence Hall and a potential deal is very much now in the works.

The word is that the Phils think Mora could be a solid short term solution to the teams need for a third baseman and indications are that he would waive his no-trade clause for a trade to Philadelphia. The Baltimore Orioles are said to be enamored with young infield prospect Jason Donald. It is hoped that wiser heads will prevail and that the Phils will ignore the whispers to "Get Mora" regardless of the price.

Melvin Mora was once an outstanding player but at 36 years of age is clearly declining as an everyday player. While he is defensively an upgrade over either Helms or Dobbs, his offense might merely resemble theirs over the course of a 162 game schedule. Mora's offensive numbers have been in full retreat over the past few years and there is nothing to indicate this tread is likely to change. It would appear that the wisest course of action would be to just say "no" to Melvin Mora.

Not so Miguel Tejada, though there is no indication as yet that he is someone the Phils are considering. They should, however, since the Orioles are said to want to move him quickly and at 32 years of age, he is not yet past his prime. Tejada would certainly move to third base to play in Philadelphia and might offer a strong right-handed bat to offset the powerful left-handed stances of Utley and Howard.

Even in a down year, Miguel Tejada hit 18 home runs and knocked in 81 runs and had a solid .799 OPS. Surrounded by the strong lineup in Philadelphia the chances are excellent that all three numbers would improve. The problem in acquiring Tejada is that he is still owed about 25 million dollars for the next two seasons and there are few indications that the O's are prepared to pay some of his salary should they trade him. It seems unlikely that the Phils would take on his entire salary unless Baltimore was prepared to take back a salary such as Adam Eaton's 16 million for the next two years.

With Tejada a long shot at best, the Phils could look longingly to the Northwest where quietly and almost surprising Adrian Beltre has resurrected his career with the Seattle Mariners. It is worth noting that when Beltre bolted Los Angeles and the Dodgers for Seattle, the Mariner GM was none other than Pat Gillick, so it can be assumed that Beltre's talents are still admired within the walls of the Phillie brain trust.

In 2007, Adrian Beltre had a solid season with 26 home runs and 99 RBI while hitting .276 with an .802 OPS. At 28 years of age, Beltre could well solve the Phillie hot corner dilemma for years to come and has averaged over 24 home runs a season for the past eight campaigns. Another reason to tout Beltre is his professed affection for hitting in Philadelphia and his understanding of the National League brand of baseball.

The downsides, of which there are many, include his salary of about 13 million a year and the fact that his agent is Scott Boras. While there is no indication that Boras has changed his mind about keeping clients away from Philadelphia this might be a worthwhile "test case." The price tag for Beltre would probably be someone like Shane Victorino and a prospect so there could be no deal for him unless the Phils first re-signed Aaron Rowand to play the outfield.

The Phils probably have no interest in Troy Glaus, given his injury plagued career and reported connection to the substance abuse cases which are now emanating out of Florida. The same can be said of Morgan Ensberg, who is now 32 years of age and two seasons removed from his career year of 36 home runs.

As for free agent Pedro Feliz, he could be the classic case of the little girl with the curl. It was always said that "when she was good she was very good, but when she was bad, she was very, very bad!" At first glance, Feliz has solid numbers offensively with 84 home runs and over 340 RBI during the past four seasons in San Francisco.

Yet, Feliz is now 32 years of age and has never hit for a consistently high average while striking out at a proportionately high rate. It also begs the question of just why would a talent poor team like the Giants so easily allow a player like Feliz to walk as a free agent. Again, this seems like a player that the current Philadelphia Phillies would best do without.

In fact, if one were to handicap on paper the Phillies chances of acquiring one of these six third basemen, currently the list would look like this...Mora, Tejada, Beltre, Ensberg, Feliz and Glaus. Yet, there is another way, a cheaper way, and in the long run, perhaps a better way to tackle the team's ongoing third base dilemma.

It would seem to behoove the Phils to think "outside the box" for a moment and consider a list of below the radar screen players who might just offer more in return than any of the previously aforementioned players, and at a much lower cost. In fact, all of these players are between 26 and 29 years of age, carry appropriately low price tags and might well do more in the long run to help the Phils than any of the higher priced talent now on the market.

Yes, it might just be in the Phillies best long term interests to consider any of four potential third baseman at this time...Joe Crede, Hank Blalock, Mark Teahen or Chad Tracy. Admittedly, not all of these players are currently on the market. In fact, the Texas Rangers recently announced that they were no longer fielding offers for Blalock and there has never been any indication that Kansas City has embraced the thought of moving Teahen.

Still, the upside to acquiring any of these four players remains a powerful reason for the Phils to at least "kick the tire" on all of them. The Chicago White Sox, in particular, have made it clear that they expect to move Joe Crede before the end of the year and the Sox and Phillies have had a strong and friendly trading relationship between White Sox GM, Kenny Williams and Gillick.

At first glance, Joe Crede represents a huge risk given his recent back injury. Still, he is reported to be healthy again and is only one year removed from a 30 home run season in Chicago. The White Sox would normally be loath to move Crede but with young Josh Fields now firmly entrenched at third base and Crede eligible for arbitration, the Chi Sox are determined to move him.

If healthy, and this is still a big IF, Joe Crede at 29 years of age would seem a perfect fit for a Phillie infield of Howard, Utley, Rollins and Crede. All powerful hitters and under 30 years of age. Even more appealing is the fact that the Sox would probably give the Phils a low rate deal considering his previous injury history and the fact that they don't want to offer arbitration in December.

Joe Crede will be dealt. His destination is not yet determined. The Phils could do much worse than determine just exactly where and when that deal will take place. Stay tuned.

Both Blalock and Teahen are 26 year old left-handed hitters with as much future potential as they have had present success. Neither is apparently available right now but both of those situations could change shortly. Had the Texas Rangers succeeded in signing free agent center fielder Torii Hunter, they might have looked to move Blalock for a hurler like Ryan Madson or J.A. Happ. Given their present unhappiness with both Vicente Padilla and Rob Tejada, the Rangers might soon be in the market for another pitcher and if this happens they will use Blalock as bait.

Hank Blalock is a smooth swinging lefty hitter who has long been on the Phillie radar screen. In fact, his younger brother Jake is currently in the Phil system at Clearwater. After a lackluster '06 campaign, Blalock seemed on his way back to stardom in 2007 before being derailed by injury. Still, in a mere 58 games played he hit 10 home runs, knocked in 33 runs and hit a solid .293. Even more impressive was his .901 OPS.

Should the Phils acquire Blalock their infield could potentially be the cornerstone of the franchise for the next five seasons. The same could be said of Teahen, if the Phils were able to pry him away from the Royals. A natural third baseman, Mark Teahen has been moved to right field to accommodate young star, Alex Gordon and while Teahen has not publicly complained about the move, it is well known that he prefers the hot corner to right field.

Finally, Chad Tracy represents a name that long time Phillie watchers have always admired from a distance. Currently employed in Arizona with the young and talented Diamondbacks, Chad Tracy appears a player without a position in Arizona after undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee in September.

The initial prognosis indicated that Tracy would be gone from "five to eight" months and if this is the case, he very well could miss the first few months of the '08 season. This would seem to preclude the Phils having any interest in the lefty hitting 27 year old. Not so fast! Clearly, this could be a case of buying low, selling high. When healthy, which Tracy is not, he is a strong and solid hitter with the power perfectly built for the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park.

The D'backs have a wealth of young talent, especially in the infield, and might be inclined to move Tracy now rather than later, should they determine that they can acquire some pitching in return. Chat Tracy is certainly the riskiest of all the potential candidates listed above, but not one worth ignoring in the continuing search for a dependable and solid everyday third baseman.

A gentleman named Robert J. Burnette once remarked that "if a man had half as much foresight as he has twice as much hindsight, he'd be better off." In hindsight, the Phils might have done a few things differently in order to woo Mike Lowell away from the Boston Red Sox. Of course, no one will ever know just how close he came to agreeing to finish his career in Philadelphia so hindsight is now something well worth casting to the wind.

Now is the time for foresight, something that has often been in short supply with the Phillies until recently. Acquiring just the proper player to play third base, not just for the short term but at least until minor league hot shots like Brad Harman or Jason Donald are deemed ready to play, will take guile, wisdom, and most of all, perseverance.

Yes, these next few months should tell us much about the direction of the Philadelphia Phillies, and determine just whether or not this baseball team will eventually celebrate or bemoan their current state after Lowell.

Columnist's Note: Please email all questions and comments to and I will respond. Thank you! CD from the Left Coast

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