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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Phillies may be close to bringing back a key contributor from 2007 after all, just not center fielder Aaron Rowand.
The team spoke with representatives for Tadahito Iguchi on Tuesday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center about the possibility of him playing third base in 2008 and beyond, adding an intriguing element to what was becoming a fruitless search for pitching.
Iguchi manning the hot corner hadn't been considered a possibility until, as Iguchi's agent, Rocky Hall, termed, "eight hours ago," when the sides met over Haagen-Dazs
ice cream at the sprawling site of the Winter Meetings. The Phillies had asked about his willingness to switch positions last month and were told that Iguchi was seeking a deal to play second base.
"He is more open at this point," Phillies general manager Pat Gillick said. "Some of his options have dried up, and I think he wants to play in the big leagues, and maybe one of his options is going to be third base."
Acquired on July 27 -- the day after Chase Utley broke a bone in his left hand -- Iguchi batted .301 in the 26 games Utley missed, and served as a prototypical No. 2 hitter. The Phils didn't move him to third after Utley returned because he had no experience at that position. Hall suggested that manager Charlie Manuel didn't want to disrupt a pennant chase.
"It was in the heat of a pennant race," he said. "He didn't want to be in a position of hurting the team's playoff hopes. At first, he wasn't very comfortable there, but he's been back home [in Japan] working at that position. And he understands it would be an asset to him to be able to play third as well.""
Gillick said the Phillies haven't decided whether to make what Hall said would have to be at least a multiyear offer. The Phils don't have a problem with this, and are believed to be willing to consider a three-year proposal. Gillick said it won't hamper the pitching pursuit.
An offer from Philadelphia is far from a guarantee of a return, as Iguchi is still exploring options. Hall said those offers are still evolving.
Because of Iguchi's preference to play on the West Coast and be closer to Japan, Hall explored those teams, but had trouble finding a fit, with Orlando Hudson (D-backs), Jeff Kent (Dodgers), Ray Durham (Giants), Mark Ellis (Athletics) and Jose Lopez (Mariners) playing second base for West Coast teams.
Iguchi thought San Diego might be an option, but the Padres are leaning toward rookie Matt Antonelli, a former first-round Draft pick. The Angels might have been an option, too, though they are no longer dealing Howie Kendrick to the Marlins in a deal for Miguel Cabrera, who was traded to the Tigers late Tuesday. The Brewers also kicked the tires with Iguchi playing third should they move National League Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun to the outfield.
The Phillies aren't kicking the tires.
"I've been doing these enough where if you kick those tires, they finally get flat," Hall said.
Then there's the Rockies, who spoke to Hall about Iguchi replacing his good friend, Kazuo Matsui, in Colorado. Hall said those discussions were preliminary. The Rockies are believed to be hoping for a short-term solution. Though he could play second base for the NL champions, Iguchi is more likely to switch positions for a multiyear contract.
"I don't think he'd want to do a single-year contract anywhere," Hall said. "I think he's looking for a place that he doesn't have to pack up and take off. Quite a few teams are asking about third base."
Two of those teams, the Dodgers and Giants, are believed to have asked him about playing third in 2008, then shifting to second for the final two years. Kent and Durham have contracts that expire after next season.
There's another snag to a potential agreement. The sides officially parted company on Nov. 15, when Iguchi was released, as per a contract stipulation that demanded it if he wasn't re-signed within 15 days of the World Series. The Phillies also couldn't offer Iguchi arbitration, as per the contract.
Because of this, Iguchi isn't eligible to play for his former team until May 15. If the sides come to an agreement, Hall will ask for an exception to the rule.
"It's a lot of paperwork. If we take that to the next level, as far as an agreement, that's something we'd have to iron out," Hall said. "We'd have to get a waiver from MLB and the Commissioner's Office that would allow him to sign prior to that May 15 deadline. It's not very common. You have to go through a couple of loopholes to make it work. He doesn't fall into a normal released player [situation]. I wouldn't be looking forward to that."
But that, like any Phillies press conference to announce Iguchi's signing, is premature.
Hall said the odds of securing a waiver were "50-50." The Phillies and catcher Steve Lake received such a waiver in 1989, though Iguchi might be in a different player as a player from Japan.
"Because he's a veteran player coming over from Japan, that might be able to take place," Hall said. "I haven't had a player like this, but it has happened before."
Other than Iguchi, Gillick said most of the Phillies' discussions revolved around trades, rather than free agents. ... The team plans to meet with Casey Close, the agent for star first baseman Ryan Howard, and will likely discuss a multiyear deal that bypasses Howard's arbitration years. Gillick said the team isn't in a hurry to get something done in that regard.