Rowand leaves door open for return
Free agent to draw much interest, but Philly still a possibility
PHILADELPHIA -- Aaron Rowand spent the day before his official availability to all 30 teams in baseball playing 18 holes of golf with Chase Utley.The teammates, who together helped bring the Phillies their first division title in 14 years, enjoyed the friendly competition and trash-talking banter that made them good friends on and off the field. So their families headed off for some sun and relaxation. "[Utley] shot an 81 on a very tough course. He shot an eagle," Rowand said, speaking by phone Monday night. "Me -- not so much." Taking the phone, Utley added: "That was probably my last [eagle]. Aaron didn't shoot quite as well. He's a much better baseball player." A baseball player coming off a career year, that is. Rowand can be pursued by all teams, as he landed on the open market at 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday, a significant step toward finding a home for the 2008 season and beyond. Free agents are able to talk dollars with suitors. Utley hopes this golfing trip won't be the last as teammates. "Aaron was a huge part of our success this year," he said. "Without him, we wouldn't have been where we were. He's such a great person and an overall good fit for our team." Despite hope from both sides of a continuing marriage, the Phillies may not be able to play in Rowand's arena. The reported number -- a request for six years and $84 million -- lingers, and that will be tough for a Philadelphia budget that is expected to be around $100 million. The Phillies have spoken with Craig Landis and Scott Boras, the agents for Rowand and Kyle Lohse, respectively, and were told that each player planned on testing the free-agent market. "Based on the discussions we had [during the exclusive negotiating period], we knew they were going to see how the marketplace unfolds for them," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "We'd like to bring [Rowand] back, and he'd like to come back, but a lot will depend on whether his expectations meet what our willingness is to bring him back in terms of length of contract and actual dollars." Amaro reiterated that the Phillies' priority remains pitching, even after the trade for Brad Lidge. The team already has roughly $69 million committed to Pat Burrell, Adam Eaton, Tom Gordon, Wes Helms, Jamie Moyer, Brett Myers, Jimmy Rollins, J.C. Romero and Utley -- and still owes $6 million to Jim Thome. Eric Bruntlett, Ryan Howard, Lidge, Ryan Madson, Julio Mateo and Jayson Werth are eligible for salary arbitration, and Howard and Lidge could receive a combined $15 million through that process. After factoring in inexpensive players like Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick, the Phillies are at about $90 million, affording them $10 million for their remaining needs. That appears to make it difficult to add both a pitcher and retain Rowand. The equation might change if a reasonably priced pitcher is acquired through a trade.
"With all due respect to Aaron Rowand, our priority continues to be pitching, and we still have the flexibility to do some things," Amaro said. "A lot of it depends on who you acquire. We're looking into a couple of different ways of filling those needs if we don't have Aaron Rowand. As far as we're concerned, Victorino or Werth are viable center-field options. They both have a lot of versatility."There is no timetable on how long this puzzle will take to assemble. The Phillies' backup plan would also include adding a fourth outfielder through a trade or free agency to replace Michael Bourne. Possibilities on the free-agent front include Geoff Jenkins, Shawn Green and Brad Wilkerson. The team could also be interested in Chunichi Dragons outfielder Kosuke Fukudome or right-hander Hiroki Kuroda of the Hiroshima Carp. For his part, Rowand said he's merely enjoying his vacation at an undisclosed tropical spot, and that he hasn't begun considering offers. The Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres have contacted him. "I don't know anything at this point," Rowand said. "It's early in the process. Today is when teams can start giving [financial] offers. I'm leaning on my agent because he's gone through this a lot of times. I really don't know what's going to happen." Rowand said he's not waiting to see where contemporaries Torii Hunter, Mike Cameron and Andruw Jones land. "If the right thing comes along, and it's the Phillies, that's great," Rowand said. "I'd like to go back and if the right thing comes along, I'm there. I'm not waiting for anyone else to sign. It's what's right for my family. I'm not thinking about what the rest of the guys are doing. It has nothing to do with that." Rowand has two children, a 6-year-old daughter, Tatum, and a 3-year-old son, McKay, who will attend elementary school during his next contract. The Rowands have a home in a Philadelphia suburb. "It's an exciting time for me," Rowand said. "I'm looking forward to the process and I'll make a decision when the time comes. I'm open to coming back to Philadelphia, but it's up to them."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.