NASHVILLE, Tenn. - On Nov. 5, at the general managers' meetings in Orlando, Fla., this is what Pat Gillick said about the Phillies' intention of upgrading at third base:

"If we go in any direction, we're going to concentrate on pitching . . . If we make a deal, it will be for pitching. If we spend money, we'll spend it on pitching."

Then again, around 500 B.C., here's what the Greek philosopher Heraclitus had to say about that:

"There is nothing permanent except change."

So, once again the door that Gillick seemed to have slammed shut so firmly on any options other than platooning Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs at third has swung open. First it was an apparent willingness to spend $50 million over the next 4 years on free agent Mike Lowell, who subsequently re-signed with the Red Sox.

Yesterday, at an ice-cream parlor inside the gigantic Opryland complex during the second full day of the annual baseball winter meetings, Gillick and assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. sat for nearly a half-hour with Rocky Hall, the agent for Tadahito Iguchi.

The Phillies aren't the only ones who can change their minds, either. Iguchi, a second baseman, was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in July, the day after Chase Utley suffered a broken hand that would land him on the disabled list for a month.

This demonstrated that pitching coach Rich Dubee, at least, was willing to give up his only son (minor league righthander Michael Dubee) to help the Phillies make the playoffs. And while Iguchi was a godsend - he ended up batting .304 in 45 games and fielded his position well - when Utley returned to the lineup at the end of August, he showed no interest in moving to third.

It seemed like a logical move at the time since the Phillies were well on their way to a season in which their third basemen would rank last in the National League in runs scored (66), next-to-last in homers (11) and hits (156) and third from the bottom in RBI (76).

Iguchi, who was to become a free agent at the end of the season, apparently didn't feel comfortable moving to an unfamiliar position.

"He's more open [to playing third] at this point," Gillick said yesterday. "Some of his other options may have dried up and I think he wants to stay in the big leagues. He took some grounders there [late in the season] and our guys are somewhat confident he can do it."

Said Hall: "The reason he didn't want to move then was because it was in the heat of a pennant race. He didn't want to be in a position of hurting the team's playoff hopes. At first, he wasn't very comfortable there, but he's been back home [in Japan] working at that position. And he understands it would be an asset to him to be able to play third as well."

While no offer has been made, there are indications the Phillies are willing to offer a 3-year contract.

There is, however, a fairly significant potential snag to all this. Since Iguchi, who turned 33 yesterday, has only 3 years in the big leagues in the United States, he is a free agent only because the original contract he signed with the White Sox stipulated that he'd be released at the end of the deal and that he wouldn't be offered salary arbitration.

Because of that, the Phillies technically can't re-sign him until May 1 . . . unless Major League Baseball is willing to grant a waiver.

"Because this is a veteran player coming from Japan, we might be able to do this," Hall said.

At the same time, the Phillies have apparently shown enough interest and Iguchi seems to be intrigued enough about returning to Philadelphia, that the agent has already made an exploratory call to MLB's Park Avenue offices to discuss the process.

"I was told not to come back until it's pretty well certain that we have a deal," he said. "It's a lot of paperwork. If we take it to the next level, it's something we'd have to work out. We'd have to go through a lot of loopholes."

According to Hall, Iguchi would like to play on the West Coast, still views himself as a second baseman and may have opportunities to accomplish one or both of those preferences.

The Phillies wonder. There were some rumors that the Angels might trade second baseman Howie Kendrick to the Marlins as part of a Miguel Cabrera deal with the Marlins; Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis went to the Detroit Tigers instead.

The Padres didn't keep Marcus Giles, but are apparently willing to move forward with Craig Stansberry at that position. The Giants have Ray Durham, the Athletics have Mark Ellis, the Mariners have Jose Lopez, the Dodgers have Jeff Kent.

That takes care of the California teams, although Hall did mention the possibility that Iguchi could go to a team to play third for a year and then move to second in the final 2 years of a deal; Kent's and Durham's contracts are up after the 2008 season.

The Colorado Rockies lost second baseman Kaz Matsui, who signed a 3-year, $16.5 million free agent contract with the Astros. But there are questions about whether the Rockies would be willing to offer 3 years and whether Iguchi wants to play in Colorado.

There were also rumors that the Brewers could move second baseman Rickie Weeks to the outfield. "It doesn't look like that's happening," Gillick said.

So it looks like coming back to the Phillies could be Iguchi's best option.

Of course, that could always change.

Phillers

Pat Gillick said he plans to speak to Ryan Howard's agent, Casey Close, before he leaves Nashville tomorrow afternoon, but downplayed the idea that a long-term deal is imminent for the 2006 NL MVP, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time. In fact, he said he's in no real rush to negotiate with Howard, who made $900,000 last year and figures to make at least $7 million in 2008. "That doesn't mean we don't care," he said. "But we made a [multiyear] proposal last spring and it was rejected" . . .

said he plans to speak to agent, , before he leaves Nashville tomorrow afternoon, but downplayed the idea that a long-term deal is imminent for the 2006 NL MVP, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time. In fact, he said he's in no real rush to negotiate with Howard, who made $900,000 last year and figures to make at least $7 million in 2008. "That doesn't mean we don't care," he said. "But we made a [multiyear] proposal last spring and it was rejected" . . .

If the Phillies do get Tadahito Iguchi to play third, it frees up Greg Dobbs to play more in the outfield. But that doesn't mean the Phillies have foreclosed the possibility of adding another outfielder. "We're still going to look for another outfielder," Gillick said . . . Pitching remains the front-burner issue, with most of yesterday's talks focusing on trades rather than potential free agent signings. Gillick indicated he might be willing to part with a prized prospect, such as righthander Carlos Carrasco, if the right pitcher became available. *