LAS VEGAS - Could be the sagging national economy making teams reluctant to spend lavishly on free agents, creating a logjam that simply hasn't been broken yet. Could be that teams looking to make trades have set their sights too high. Could be just one of those things.

But the reason these winter meetings at the tony Bellagio have so far created only sluggish movement on the free-agent and trade markets is not because of the Phillies, Ruben Amaro Jr. insists.

"We have several [active trade discussions]," the general manager said last night. "We've discussed a variety of opportunities, and hopefully at least one will present itself. We're trying to be as aggressive as we can to improve the club.

"There are some deals out there that, if a club or clubs said yes, we'd get it done. If a club says yes, we'll move on it. But those words don't come freely."

He would not comment on a reported three-way deal that would have involved the Phillies trading prospects to get Mark DeRosa from the Cubs, while the Padres would send righthander Jake Peavy to Chicago. "We've talked to a variety of clubs in several scenarios," was as specific as he got.

There were conflicting reports yesterday on whether that trade was a realistic possibility, but this much seems clear:

1. The Padres need to trade Peavy and the remaining $82 million on his contract to lower their payroll, and he has shown little inclination to waive his no-trade clause to go anywhere but Wrigley Field.

2. The Cubs control the situation, because they're willing to take Peavy but don't feel a pressing need to add him to their rotation. They don't have to trade DeRosa. And all signs are that they would prefer a straight-up deal.

3. It's San Diego trying to involve other teams.

In a variation on that rumor that surfaced late last night, the Phillies would get righthander Jason Marquis from the Cubs and righthanded-hitting outfielder Scott Hairston from San Diego. The Phillies get a platoon leftfielder in Hairston and an innings-eating fifth starter in Marquis. And since Marquis is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $9.875 million in 2009, that would still seem to leave the door open to re-sign Jamie Moyer.

Amaro did not rule out trying to sign righthander Derek Lowe, despite reports he eventually will get $80 million over 5 years. "We like Derek Lowe. Our people like Derek Lowe. But he's not the only pitcher we're looking at," he said.

Two other Phillies-related rumors: One is that the team is looking into the possibility of signing free-agent reliever Brandon Lyon (3-5, 4.70 with 75 hits allowed in 59 1/3 innings for the Diamondbacks). The other is that they have had discussions with free-agent infielder Nick Punto, which presumably would take them out of the market for DeRosa.


The Phillies apparently have some cursory interest in free-agent reliever

Russ Springer

. . . An Internet report yesterday suggested the Phillies might get outfielder

Ryan Ludwick

from the Cardinals for a top reliever, presumably righthander

Ryan Madson.

Sources said that's unlikely, pointing out that moving Ludwick would leave the Cardinals with an all-lefthanded-hitting outfield and probably would want more for a .299-37-113 hitter. *