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The latest on the payroll situation, Luis Castillo and more

Good morning from another glorious Sunday morning in Clearwater, Florida. The sun is shining, the sky is cloudless, and the line for tickets to this afternoon's Yankees-Phillies tilt looks a lot like the line at job fairs these days.

Joe Blanton will start against C.C. Sabathia and then be followed by three likely members of the Opening Day bullpen: Jose Contreras, Danys Baez and Antonio Bastardo.

Pitching tomorrow against the Red Sox at Bright House Field: Roy Halladay, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madson, David Herndon and Scott Mathieson.

Some random news, notes, observations and thoughts as we get underway. . .

1) The Inquirer's Bob Brookover, who will be making his much-anticipated return to the set of That's Baseball during tomorrow's taping, has a story in today's paper in which he follows up with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. regarding recent comments he made on a radio show about the Phillies' payroll flexibility. In essence, RAJ says the Phillies have no flexibility. Which could very well be true, but only as things stand right now.

For instance, Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown recently reported via Twitter that the Rangers were willing to eat up to half of the $48 million remaining on Michael Young's contract in a deal that would net them top-shelf talent in return.

The Rangers could also be in the market for a starting pitcher, given their failed pursuit of Cliff Lee and the question marks among the various arms behind C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis (Brandon Webb, Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, Neftali Feliz, etc). Let's say Joe Blanton, owed $17 million over the next two seasons, was party of a deal for young. Suddenly, the Phillies would only be taking on $7 million in salary ($24 million in Young's salary, minus $17 million in Blanton's salary) over three years.

We're not saying such a deal is a likelihood. If current reports are to believed, the Phillies would still have to include prospects in the deal. That might be too hefty a package for a 34-year-old player with diminishing defensive capabilities and a career .733 OPS away from the Ballpark at Arlington (compared with an .859 OPS at home).

The point is, the Phillies might not be able to take on much more than the $165 million or so in payroll obligations that they currently have, but they certainly could elect to re-arrange the allocation of those dollars.

Another way to free up some money? How about the $2.5 million they will be paying to their long man this season? That's not a huge price to pay for a guy who can provide them with starting pitching depth while also serving in the bullpen. But if the Phillies need to free up some cash for a personnel move, they at least have the option of looking for suitors for Kendrick.

Then you can factor in whatever insurance money the club might be able to recoup in case of an extended absence by Chase Utley. The main point: the Phillies might not have any payroll flexibility, but they do have some personnel flexibility that could lead to payroll flexibility.

2) From various people I've spoken with, I get the impression that the Phillies do not view Luis Castillo as a player they should target to fill in for Utley at second base. The word from scouts and other baseball men who have watched him play is that his foot speed has decreased dramatically, which has affected both his defensive range and his offensive capability. I get the sense that the Phillies would be willing to take a look at him on a non-guaranteed deal, essentially inviting him to camp for a one-week try-out, and maybe letting him start the year in the minors. A non-guaranteed deal would not be the worst thing for Castillo, since he'd still be earning the full $6 million owed on his contract. The only difference is the Mets would be paying the full pricetag, instead of the Phillies chipping in $414,000 of it (the veteran minimum).

That said, it sounds like there are enough interested teams -- the Cubs and Marlins are two that have been mentioned by some of the national baseball writers -- that there is a good chance Castillo ends up finding a situation that will guarantee him more playing time than the Phillies are willing to guarantee him.

3) Brad Lidge threw a bullpen session today, starting off with 20 pitches to simulate his normal warm-up, then 15 pitches to simulate a game appearance. He was pleased with the results, and feels ready to appear in a game on Tuesday, then pitch every other day for the rest of the spring. Whether he and the Phillies are on the same page remains to be seen.

4) Utley took batting practice today, but still is not much closer to being ready to play than he has been all spring. Utley hasn't seen live pitching since the start of Grapefruit League play, and it doesn't sound like the Phillies have any immediate plans to throw him in a minor league game or some other controlled situation in which he could hit without running.

5) Charlie Manuel said last week he hoped Placido Polanco would be in a game on Monday, but it sounds like that progression is at least a day late. Polanco still hasn't swung a bat since hyper-extending his elbow early last week in Toronto. He is tentatively scheduled to hit off a tee and hit soft-tosses tomorrow in the cage. If everything feels good, he would progress to batting practice on Tuesday. In an ideal world, that would be followed by a game. But it still doesn't sound like Polanco is in any danger of missing Opening Day.

6) Chris Coste is going to be back in town. The former Phillies back-up catcher, who wrote a book about his late-rise to the big leagues, will be doing some TV work for Comcast Sports Net. Here's a story from his hometown paper.

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