Phillies Will Face Free Agent Dilemmas

<center>Eric Milton: Bring him back.</center>

With the wild card and division titles seemingly gone from the Phillies season, some focus is shifting to the long list of free agents that they'll have to make decisions on once the season ends. Some decisions appear easy, while others will be tougher. Perhaps fittingly, the Phillies have a lot of decisions that could reshape how the 2005 club comes together.

Free agency. Many times, the focus falls on who can be added to help a club through free agency. For the Phillies, the first questions are going to be who they can – and should – keep. Plus, how much are they willing and able to spend to keep them around.

The Phillies list of potential free agents is long. Todd Pratt, Tomas Perez, Placido Polanco, Doug Glanville, Eric Milton, Kevin Millwood, Roberto Hernandez, Rheal Cormier, Cory Lidle and Todd Jones are all eligible for free agency. Plus, Billy Wagner, who the Phillies have a club option on, can decide to demand a trade since he was dealt in the middle of a long-term contract. Felix Rodriguez has a player option that will guarantee him over three-million dollars for next season and he's likely to exercise that option.

Here's a look at the prospects of each player coming back to Philly:

Todd Pratt has been a big part of the club. He's a legitimate backup catcher, who is able to give Mike Lieberthal a day off now and then and knows how to handle a pitching staff. He's also a big clubhouse influence, who is very popular with other players. He likely won't be too expensive and the Phillies don't have a whole lot of other options when it comes to catchers to backup Lieberthal. Look for the Phillies to likely sign Pratt for another season.

Tomas Perez is also popular with other players and comes in handy since he can play anywhere in the infield. He's a solid player and like Pratt, probably won't cost too much to re-sign. It's unlikely that he's going to find a much better situation for himself where he'll get more playing time. The Phillies will try to re-sign him and it's likely that they'll be successful. The Phillies have veteran minor leaguer Buzz Hannahan at AAA Scranton and he might be in line for Perez' job in the majors. Hannahan can do everything Perez can on the field, plus, he can play in the outfield. If Hannahan gets a September audition, that could help determine if the Phillies go with Perez or perhaps try to save perhaps as much as six or seven hundred thousand dollars and go instead with Hannahan.

Placido Polanco was trade bait at the deadline, but nobody bit. It's become obvious that Chase Utley is the second baseman of the future and the future arrives next season. Polanco can play second and third and could also play short in a pinch. He's not a bad guy to have on a club, but he's likely going to look for a starting job somewhere. Here's an idea. Offer Polanco arbitration with the understanding that he won't be the starting second baseman next season, but the Phillies are interested in having him as a utility player. It's unlikely that he would accept, but then, the Phillies would at least be eligible to receive the draft pick compensation for losing Polanco. If Polanco did accept, he would become a costly utility player, but he would also become important should David Bell have more injury problems. Polanco could be looked at as Shawn Wooten and Tyler Houston were during the past couple offseasons, only the Phillies know his personality is more compatible to clubhouse unity. Polanco will be an interesting case, but it's likely that he'll be elsewhere next season looking for more playing time.

Doug Glanville has taken a lot of heat this season. The Phillies front office loves this guy and there are rumors that when his playing days are over, he'll get a nice front office job with the Phillies. That time may have come. Glanville is definitely a replaceable player and it's likely that he'll either move on to another club or retire after the season. One scenario even has him becoming the manager at Clearwater should Mike Schmidt decide not to come back for a second season. Bottom line is that Glanville is likely gone.

Eric Milton has the best winning percentage in major league baseball. No, he's not a top of the rotation pitcher, but he's solid. He's also left-handed, which never hurts. He's had a good first season in Philadelphia and deserves to be signed long-term. The Phillies will at least offer him arbitration, but it's likely that he would get a long-term deal elsewhere and arbitration won't keep him in Philadelphia. In the Phillies favor is the fact that Milton has said he's had more fun this season in Philadelphia than he's ever had in the majors and he believes this club has a lot of potential. Basically, he wants to stay. The Phillies have blew it when they decided not to negotiate with Milton until after the season because they don't want to offend other potential free agents on their club by focusing on Milton. Get over it. Sign this guy now. With Milton's interest in Philly and the Phillies interest in him, it's likely that he'll be back with the Phillies.

Kevin Millwood took the arbitration route last season and will head into free agency looking for a long-term deal. He hasn't been horrible for the Phillies, but he has been at least a little disappointing. He's not a staff ace kind of pitcher, but with Scott Boras as his agent, he'll look for the money that an ace gets paid. The Phillies aren't likely to fall into the arbitration trap this offseason and it's unlikely that Millwood will be back with the Phillies in 2005. It's a horrible thought, but a return to Atlanta, or possibly joining Tom Glavine in New York would be the likely destinations for Millwood.

Roberto Hernandez is gone. If not for the fact that Larry Bowa and Ed Wade both love veteran pitchers and the rosters can expand soon, Hernandez might be gone before the end of the season. The Phillies won't offer him arbitration and at best, would offer him a minor league deal and an invite to spring training, although even that is very unlikely.

Rheal Cormier has been overused this season. The Phillies really needed another left-hander to help out Cormier in the bullpen this season. Rheal Cormier is a strong situational lefty and if the price is right, the Phillies are likely to bring him back or at least try. Of course, if pitching coach Joe Kerrigan is fired, as has been rumored, Cormier may be a little less interested in returning. If Larry Bowa is fired, Cormier may be more interested in returning.

Todd Jones has been shaky. He will likely wind up being a rented pitcher who didn't get the Phillies over the hump. The deal to get Jones wasn't all bad and was a move that the Phillies had to make, but he's replaceable for 2005 and the Phillies will likely take the same approach that they will with Roberto Hernandez.

Cory Lidle generally eats a lot of innings. He's a low part of the rotation pitcher and has some upside. The Phillies might even consider bringing him back, especially if they consider dealing Brett Myers and letting Millwood go into free agency. Lidle might be one of the more interesting cases that the Phillies will face. A lot might depend on what kind of money Lidle is looking for. One factor, which Ed Wade insists won't be a factor, is that the Phillies gave up some decent prospects for Lidle and may not want him to be a rental player who came in much too late to help. The Lidle trade would have made a lot more sense if the Phillies had been able to make it about two months earlier than they did.

Bottom line is that the Phillies have a lot of questions to answer during the offseason. They're not all easy questions, but they will require answers before too long.

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