"He's way more relaxed than he was (in 2008)," Manuel said. "He is real happy to be on our team. He likes everything about our team."
The feeling wasn't entirely mutual.
"There were some differences of opinion, but we finally decided that, in the end, if we were going to give ourselves a chance to add or change things up a little bit, this would be the most likely place to do that," explained GM Ruben Amaro Jr. "That was one of the big reasons why. This gives us more options."
Believing they can find a better third baseman - or, at the very least, that they will be able to re-sign Feliz at a lower salary - the Phillies decided to decline their $5.5 million option on his contract for 2010, making him a free agent.
"This doesn't preclude us from bringing Pedro back next season," Amaro said in a statement. "While this allows us to explore other opportunities, we will continue to keep lines of communication open with Pedro and his representative."
Clearly, though, the Phillies appear to be looking in a different direction.
Feliz, 34, played Gold Glove-caliber defense and led the team by batting .336 with runners in scoring position, 13th best among all NL players. But he hit only .266 overall, and after averaging 21 home runs in San Francisco from 2004 through 2007, he slugged only 26 homers over two seasons with the Phillies. His .694 on-base-plus-slugging percentage ranked only 18th among major league third basemen.
"He had a solid year for us," Amaro said, explaining why the Phillies opted merely to pay Feliz's $500,000 buyout. "I like the man personally. He's a great person and a great teammate. But I also believe in trying to improve the club, and sometimes change can be for the better."
A year ago, Amaro guarded against bringing back the exact same lineup from 2008 by replacing free agent left fielder Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez. And with seven of their everyday players under contract or club control for 2010, it appears Amaro has targeted third base as the one position where he can bring change.
During the recent general managers meetings in Chicago, Amaro said the Phillies are more likely to find Feliz's replacement via free agency than through a trade. Several third basemen figure to be in the free agent pool, including the Angels' Chone Figgins, the Mariners' Adrian Beltre and the Cardinals' Mark DeRosa.
Figgins, who turns 32 in January, may be the most attractive option after batting .301 with a .386 on-base percentage and 117 stolen bases over the past three seasons. But he made $5,775,000 in 2009 and stands to get a raise in free agency. Based on his production and age, he could be in line for a contract similar to the four-year, $40 million extension signed by Baltimore's Brian Roberts in February.
One other potential option: Former Phillies infielder Placido Polanco also is a free agent, and the Tigers may not be able to re-sign him. But while his disciplined approach at the plate would make him a fit in the Phillies' lineup, he hasn't played third base since 2005.