The Phillies made it clear their offseason mission is to improve their pitching.

They signed closer Brad Lidge, which moved Brett Myers back into the rotation, and reportedly have gained interest in former Phillies lefthander Randy Wolf.

However, when reports surfaced that the Phillies offered a 4-year, $50 million contract to World Series MVP Mike Lowell, the Red Sox' third baseman, many wondered where the team's focus of improvement really lay.

Is it improving a pitching staff that posted a 4.73 ERA, fourth worst in the National League? Or is it in improving at third base, where the Phillies compiled the worst on-base-percentage-plus-slugging-percentage (.688) in the NL last season?

Now, the Phillies are rumored to be interested in trading for Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora.

According to the Baltimore Sun, Mora, 35, is unhappy with the Orioles' rebuilding direction and would consider dropping the no-trade clause in his contract to go to a competitive team on the East Coast.

"I can't tell you right now what I'm going to do," Mora told the paper earlier this month. "But I want to be on a winning team. I don't want to be like, 'Let's make the fans wait 6 more years and then we're going to try to start winning again.' You don't want to deal with that."

The Phillies, who have Wes Helms, Gregg Dobbs and Eric Bruntlett at third, could suit Mora pretty well, although landing him could cost prospects with whom they don't want to part.

The Sun, citing an industry source, yesterday reported that the teams have talked, but that the Phillies' interests were unclear.

Phone calls from the Daily News to the Phillies were not immediately returned. The Phillies, as per policy, typically do not discuss other teams' players. Mora's agent, Lon Babby, also was not reached.

The Sun also reported yesterday that during winter ball, Mora will split time between third base and outfield, where he has not played since 2003.

Mora, who hit .274 with 14 homers and 58 RBI last season, signed a 3-year contract extension in May 2006. He is due to make $8 million in each of the next two seasons. In 2010, he is due a club option worth $8 million or a $1 million buyout.

Mora, who has been with the Orioles since 2000, expressed his frustration in the earlier interview with the team's approach of rebuilding from its farm system vs. spending money on landing a big-name free agent.

"I don't want to leave Baltimore. I'd die for the Orioles," he said. "But sometimes you also have to move on. I can't control that, but I can control where I go. I'm a Baltimore Oriole unless [president of baseball operations] Andy MacPhail wants to change that."

Phils land LHP

The Phillies claimed lefthander Shane Youman off waivers from Pittsburgh as they try to acquire an ample amount of arms by spring training.

Last season, the 28-year-old, who split time between the Pirates and Triple A Indianapolis, went 3-5 with a 5.97 ERA in 16 big-league appearances, including eight starts. Youman, who was drafted in the 43rd round of the 2001 draft by the Pirates, was 4-6 in 15 starts for Indianapolis with a 4.70 ERA. *