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PHILADELPHIA -- The answer hasn't changed. The Phillies head to Nashville, Tenn., with pitching atop their Winter Meetings shopping list.
Despite having five starters and a bullpen that is already four strong, the Phillies would like to shore up a rotation that nearly cost them a playoff appearance in 2007.
"Our priority is still pitching," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said early last week. "Everything we're trying to do revolves around that."
The Phillies would like to add another starter as insurance should Adam Eaton's right shoulder continue to be a problem in 2008. Eaton, who posted a 6.29 ERA when he pitched, finished the 2007 season with shoulder troubles that have not abated in the offseason.
Jamie Moyer will turn 45 next season, and he struggled for stretches in '07. Despite a brilliant start on the final day of the regular season, Moyer posted a 5.65 ERA in his last 26 starts. Kyle Kendrick had an effective rookie season, but he's still an unknown, and ace Cole Hamels still hasn't posted a 200-inning season in his career. Brett Myers' move from the bullpen will help the front portion of the staff.
If one of those pitchers should falter, the Phillies don't have a viable replacement. Help will arrive if Japanese righty Hiroki Kuroda accepts a proposal to pitch in Philadelphia. The team lost out on Randy Wolf, when the free agent agreed to a deal with San Diego on Saturday night. Other options include Kris Benson and Bartolo Colon.
Most baseball insiders feel that Nashville will be the setting for more trades than in previous years. The Phillies will likely dip their toe in that pool, but they won't be serious players for left-handers Johan Santana or Dontrelle Willis.
The Phillies have also had regular contact with Aaron Rowand's agent, Craig Landis, but they face a challenge, considering that Torii Hunter set the market for center fielders with a five-year, $90 million deal from the Angels. The Phillies, who reportedly made a four-year, $48 million contract offer for Mike Lowell that was believed to be heavily back-loaded, could make a similar offer to Rowand, who was offered arbitration
With that said, if Rowand receives an offer close to the six years and $84 million that he is believed to be seeking -- with jilted Hunter suitors, the Rangers, Dodgers and White Sox, as possibilities -- Rowand won't be back. Still, the Phillies led the National League in runs scored the past two seasons, and they should be able to score runs without Rowand.
"We have to improve our pitching," general manager Pat Gillick said. "You don't need as much offense if the other team scores fewer runs."
The Phillies must work within a budget at or around $105 million in 2008, which would be among the top 10 in baseball. Given that, Philadelphia has roughly $10-$15 million to spend on the free-agent market.
To review, the Phillies have $68.5 million committed to Pat Burrell ($14 million), Myers ($8.5 million), Jimmy Rollins ($8 million), Eaton ($7.6 million), Chase Utley ($7.5 million), Moyer ($5.5 million), Tom Gordon ($5.5 million), J.C. Romero ($3.7 million) and Wes Helms ($2.1 million), plus they owe $6 million to White Sox slugger Jim Thome.
After salary arbitration for players such as Ryan Howard, Brad Lidge and Jayson Werth, and modest increases for Hamels, Shane Victorino and Kendrick, the Phillies will have allocated $95 million. That leaves about $10 million left to spend.