JIMMY ROLLINS bopped into town, expecting to talk about winning the National League's MVP award. Instead, he found himself fielding a question that made his face break out in a grin as big as if he'd just started a tripleplay.
"We got Pedro Feliz? Really?" he said last night before the annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association dinner at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill. "I didn't know that. That's great. That's great. Oh, man. Not too many ground balls will be getting through that left side again."
Well, technically, the Phillies haven't signed the free-agent third baseman just yet. Feliz still has to pass a physical and the team still has to make room on the 40-man roster. But every indication is that within a few days it will become official that Feliz, the 32-year-old righthanded hitter who until now has spent his entire career in the San Francisco Giants organization, has agreed to a 2-year deal with an option for 2010 worth a reported $8.5 million.
General manager Pat Gillick and manager Charlie Manuel, both of whom also attended the banquet, barely managed to deny the fast-breaking news.
"We got better. He's a good defensive player. He's got power," Manuel said. "I like it. I'm excited about it."
Gillick would only go as far as to say that he's "optimistic" about the deal getting done, but added that he considers Feliz a superior defensive player who will add pop to the lineup.
On the plus side, Feliz hit 20 homers and drove in 72 runs last year. "And that's a little more difficult park to hit in out there than here," Gillick said. "And it's a different lineup to hit in. We've got a different lineup than the Giants do. If we're able to get this thing done, I could see where, you know, conservatively, he could hit 25 home runs."
The drawbacks: Feliz had only 29 walks last season (while striking out 70 times) and has a career .288 on-base percentage. He also had just two stolen bases. And it's just a little curious that the Giants, a team that struggled to score runs, didn't make more of an effort to keep him. The average annual value of his deal with the Phillies is apparently less than the $5 million he made last year.
As recently as a couple of weeks ago, talks with Feliz appeared to be dead after the Phillies had previously been unable to land free agents Mike Lowell and Tadahito Iguchi. "[Talks] kind of got going the past couple of days," Gillick said.
The first reaction is that the Phillies will likely trade either Wes Helms or Greg Dobbs, who platooned at third last season as the Phillies made it to the playoffs for just the second time in 23 years and who, until yesterday, seemed likely to reprise their roles.
That still seems the most probable outcome, although Dobbs still has an option left and could be sent to the minors despite having a breakthrough season last year by batting .272 with 10 homers and 55 RBI in just 324 at-bats.
Gillick said he liked having as much depth as possible. "A lot of things can happen," he pointed out. "The more depth you have, the more flexibility it gives you, the more opportunity it gives you to move someone, if possible. If guys can play, it's good to have those people on your roster. That's what spring training is for - to figure out what you're going to do with them."
In the meantime, Rollins was upbeat about the addition.
"I'm not going to say it will be like playing with [Gold Glover] Scott Rolen, because I've never played with Pedro. But playing against him, I know he's taken a couple of doubles away from me down that line," he said. "Also, we've finally got a righthanded bat. We've been saying that for years but it seems every time we sign a big bat, or potential big bat, it ended up being a lefthanded hitter. But I'm excited about that."
Rollins also found time to talk about his offseason. He said he went to school by watching the frenzied pace Ryan Howard kept up after winning the MVP in 2006.
"I spoke with Ryan and [public relations director] Leigh Tobin," he said, "and I was like, 'Just give me the big dinners and the ones that are really important. Anything else, I don't really care about doing. Just give me what I need to do.' "
, who missed last season following shoulder surgery and has yet to sign with a team for 2008, will throw again for interested teams next week in the Atlanta area. The session will most likely be Tuesday and the Phillies, who also scouted him in December, will be among the clubs watching. If they like what they see, Benson could be offered a minor league contract. The Phillies' 40-man roster was full even before the addition of
, so another move would have to be made to clear a spot. Presently, the Phillies' rotation projects to be
and Rule 5 draft pick
also in the mix. *