LAS VEGAS - In one corner of the sprawling Bellagio, the much-discussed trade that would have sent righthander Jake Peavy from the Padres to the Cubs came unstuck. Chicago general manager Jim Hendry, apparently tiring of San Diego's efforts to expand the deal to include a third team, called the whole thing off.

The Phillies may have been part of the collateral damage. They reportedly had been trying to crash the party by using prospects as their invitation, hoping to snare infielder-outfielder Mark DeRosa. That option now appears dead.

At another geographic point of the complex, the Twins were finalizing a 2-year contract extension with free agent Nick Punto. Oops. Cross another possibility off the list.

The winter meetings officially ended yesterday and let's just say the Phillies have to be grateful the regular season doesn't open tonight.

In each of the last two seasons, they've squeezed past the Mets down the stretch. Most recently, they took advantage of a New York bullpen that collapsed after closer Billy Wagner missed the final 2 months with elbow problems.

Mets general manager Omar Minaya moved aggressively to address that shortcoming this week. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Not in this case. Signing free-agent closer Francisco Rodriguez and trading for former Mariners closer J.J. Putz to set him up should have ramifications that echo through new Citi Field all summer.

The same can't be said for sending catcher Jason Jaramillo to the Pirates for catcher Ronny Paulino, the only deal Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. completed before the curtain fell.

The good news: Opening Day, in fact, is still 3 1/2 months away. That's plenty of time to get something done. "Our offseason does not end until April 5," Amaro said.

With that in mind, here's a look at where the Phillies stand coming out of baseball's annual December conclave:

Starting pitching

This was the stated priority going into the offseason and names like Derek Lowe and A.J. Burnett were being tossed around.

Not surprisingly, the price of those premium free agents seems to have escalated beyond the Phillies' comfort level. That would seem to make the re-signing of veteran lefthander Jamie Moyer almost a must, but what once seemed like a slam dunk continues to hang in limbo.

Charlie Manuel said yesterday that he expects to have the 46-year-old back, although he admitted it was little more than a hunch and that he hasn't talked to him.

"I think Jamie Moyer is going to be back in our rotation, yes," the manager said. "We look at him as one of our starters. When you start talking about the financial part of baseball, sometimes that's where you get hung up. And I think that's where the Phillies are right now with him."

If Moyer comes back, J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick and Carlos Carrasco would compete for the fifth spot, barring another move.

But there are still some pitchers on the free-agent market who could be interesting, including Randy Wolf, Paul Byrd, Jon Garland and Braden Looper. If the Phillies want to take a shot at a pitcher coming off an injury, they might consider Mark Mulder.


Assuming free agent Pat Burrell doesn't return - and his name was conspicuously absent from the nightly lobby rumorfest - the Phillies would appear to have a few ways to turn.

They could trade for Twins outfielder Delmon Young, the former first overall draft choice who is just 23 years old. The gamble would be that he would take to Manuel's avuncular style, but it's a relatively low-risk, potentially high-reward move.

They could sign free agent Juan Rivera. Or they could take a run at free agent Raul Ibanez even though he's a lefthanded hitter and they really need a righthanded bat to put behind Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in the lineup.

Or they could look for a righthanded hitter to platoon with the lefties (Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, Geoff Jenkins).


There was an unconfirmed report that the Phils were zeroing in on free-agent righthander Chan Ho Park. One way or another, though, expect Amaro to add another reliever, probably one capable of pitching multiple innings.

Manuel has been ill all week. When he surfaced yesterday he was asked his reaction to the moves the Mets have made. "It kind of made me go back and get the flu again," he joked.

But seriously, folks . . .

"The way we stand right now, we can still play with them," he added. "I think we can stay right with them. But at the same time, I think they definitely got better. I think there are some things that have to work out for us, but I don't see why they can't."

Minaya, meanwhile, visibly recoiled when asked if he thought the Mets were now the team to beat the in National League East.

"No way!" he said with a laugh. "Please. Forget about team to beat. We've just got to get back to the playoffs."

At the same time, he didn't downplay the importance of what he accomplished and insisted he's not done yet.

"If [Wagner] had stayed healthy, to me, we would have won the division," he said. "I woke up this morning and I had some ideas. And I'm going to keep going after those big ideas." *