The Phillies have declined the option for 2010 on third baseman Pedro Feliz' contract, general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. announced in a press release. The Phillies had a $5.5 million option, a $5 million salary for 2010 and a $500,000 buyout.

Feliz, 34, batted .266 with 12 home runs and 82 RBI in 158 games for the Phillies this past season. With runners in scoring position, he hit a team-best .336, which ranked 13th among all National League players.

"This doesn't preclude us from bringing Pedro back next season," Amaro said in the statement. "While this allows us to explore other opportunities, we will continue to keep the lines of communication open with Pedro and his representative."

The fact that the Phillies made Feliz a free agent means their personnel department has identified potential candidates who would either provide a substantial upgrade (the Angels' Chone Figgins, the Mariners' Adrian Beltre both possess better offensive numbers over the last 3 years and are regarded as solid defenders) or, at the very least, provide better cost efficiency than the money they would pay their incumbent (the Orioles' Melvin Mora, and the Cardinals' Mark DeRosa and Troy Glaus and the Tigers' Placido Polanco are among the veterans who could be available).

Figgins, for example, has hit .301 with a .386 on-base percentage with 117 stolen bases over the last three seasons. But he will be 32 years old on Opening Day (nearly a year older than Jimmy Rollins), has played his entire career with the Angels, and can play second base and the outfield as well as third. Good luck predicting the type of contract he would ultimately receive.

Same goes for Beltre. And what about DeRosa, a player whom the Phillies have long admired, but who is coming off wrist surgery and will be 35 on Opening Day? Is there a team out there who would give the versatile righthanded hitter a hefty multi-year contract? Or might he wind up providing a better value than Feliz?

An offensive upgrade at third base is their best option at improving a lineup that led the National League in runs and home runs, but was prone to maddening stretches of impotence thanks in part to its vulnerability against lefthanded pitchers. But by declining his option, they risk being left with a less attractive option at third.