Phils to continue working on '08 model
Seeking depth, club among suitors for free-agent righty Benson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After three days of window shopping and price comparing, the Phillies left the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center on Thursday without the pitcher or pitchers they hoped to acquire.The Phillies confirmed what they already knew heading in: with so many teams chasing the few available pitchers, the predictable result has been a high cost. "I don't want to pay for a Cadillac if I'm getting a Ford Fusion," assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said after a frustrating pursuit. Nothing against a dependable car like the Fusion, but the Phillies opted to wait and see. That doesn't mean they'll enter the 2008 season with the current roster. Much can still change, but for now, the pitching staff and offense remain what they were entering the Meetings. The team added a potential fifth starter in the Rule 5 Draft by selecting once highly touted lefty Travis Blackley from the Giants, but didn't leave with a bona fide Major Leaguer. They'll keep searching. Free-agent righty Kris Benson remains near the center of the radar screen, and the Phillies will be one of nine teams in Arizona to watch him throw on Dec. 17. He's an attractive option, if healthy, because of his willingness to accept a one-year deal and his Major League experience. Glendon Rusch's name also came up in discussions, and the 33-year-old lefty has been offered a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. The Phils were quickly told Rusch was only interested if they could guarantee him a spot in the rotation. Rusch went 3-8 with a 7.46 ERA in 2006 before a blood clot in his lung ended his season. He didn't pitch in 2007. The Phillies bowed out of the sweepstakes for Japanese right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, leaving him to chose from among the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Mariners. "We need pitching," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We need one more good piece [in the bullpen], a couple of guys that can go a couple of innings in the middle of the game and a starter. To me, that's the key to us winning." Can the team add the necessary pieces? "I wouldn't say it's going to be easy, but it's not insurmountable," general manager Pat Gillick said. "We'll keep plugging away." Despite not adding Major League pitching, the Phillies are still a team to beat, just as Jimmy Rollins said last January. The defending National League East champions have a potent offense, even if center fielder Aaron Rowand departs.
Gillick called Rowand's return a "long shot," but the team is hopeful it can replace Rowand's bat with Tadahito Iguchi, who will likely be offered a multiyear contract. The sides are close, but a snag must be addressed, since Iguchi would need a waiver to re-sign with the Phillies.Because he was released after the season, as per his contract, Iguchi can't sign a Major League deal until May 15. He could sign a Minor League contract and play at Triple-A Lehigh Valley for six weeks, but his agent, Rocky Hall, said that wasn't an option. Another option explored would be another team signing Iguchi, then dealing him to Philadelphia, but that likely died when the sides discovered that a team couldn't trade such a player until June 15 of the next season. Philadelphia could also still upgrade at third, where Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs are expected to share time. The Phillies have been approached by the Marlins about Helms, and a deal could happen if they find a suitable upgrade. The Tigers' Brandon Inge doesn't qualify, largely because he's owed $19.1 million over the next three seasons. Deals done: None during the Winter Meetings. The Phillies acquired righty closer Brad Lidge and utiltyman Eric Bruntlett for outfielder Michael Bourn, righty Geoff Geary and Minor League third baseman Michael Costanzo on Nov. 7. Three days later, the Phils re-signed lefty J.C. Romero to a three-year, $12 million deal with an option for a fourth year. Rule 5 activity: The Phillies selected Blackley from the Giants and right-hander Lincoln Holdzkom from the Red Sox in the Major League phase, and third baseman Patrick Sellers from the Astros and second baseman Luke Appert from the A's in the Minor League phase. Philadelphia lost righty Scott Mitchinson to Oakland and righty Kenny Fernandez to Florida in the Minor League phase. Goals accomplished: It's too early to tell. The Phils didn't accomplish their goal of adding at least one big league pitcher, but they may have laid some groundwork that may pan out in Spring Training or during the season. Unfinished business: The Phillies are seeking pitching depth, either to replace an injured or ineffective starter or provide further help in the bullpen. They're a strong candidate for Benson from among a field that may include as many as eight other teams. They discussed outfielder Nate McLouth and reliever John Grabow with Pittsburgh, and could double back on that front. They're also sniffing around for potential trades, but are reluctant to trade their Minor League talent. Organizational bottom line: "We're very competitive right now, but obviously we want to get more competitive. We're going to continue to see if there are other pieces that we can add. Pitching depth is an area that we want to continue addressing, just from the standpoint of guys that we had to run out last year." -- Arbuckle
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.