INDIANAPOLIS - Having crossed third base, backup catcher and utility infielder off their shopping list before even picking up their winter meetings room keys, all that's left for the Phillies entourage now is to hum a familiar refrain.
It always circles back to pitching, doesn't it? General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has made himself clear. He's looking for relief help, especially arms that can pitch later in the game, when the pressure begins to build. He'd like a starter who could compete for the fifth spot. He's looking for guys who, for whatever reason, won't command a high salary but have a chance to be pretty good. Low risk, high reward is how he puts it.
Pitchers, in short, who sound suspiciously like Brett Myers.
Except that they'd rather sell their 2008 World Series trophy for scrap than even consider the thought.
They haven't just closed the door on the idea of bringing back the 29-year-old righthander. They've slammed it shut, put on the chain, flipped the deadbolt and pushed the sofa up against the back.
As the annual December baseball conclave creaked into motion yesterday, the lobby scuttlebutt had Myers most likely heading to the Houston Astros or Texas Rangers.
The Phillies? The World Series had barely ended before they announced they were not at all interested in keeping their former No. 1 draft choice.
This is odd on a couple of levels. One is that, well, that's not how they usually conduct themselves. Only a year ago they kept insisting that re-signing Pat Burrell was a possibility. They stuck to that line right up until the moment they signed Raul Ibanez, even though there were, from all indications, precisely zero postseason negotiations with the incumbent leftfielder.
The other is that Myers just might have significantly more upside than whomever they end up with to fill one of those spots.
Apparently, though, the powers that be on Pattison Avenue have concluded that he has exceeded his allowable quota of knuckleheaded moments.
It's hard to tell whether that invisible line was crossed when he made the ill-advised decision to take a break from a rehab assignment in Clearwater, Fla., to celebrate his birthday in Jacksonville. Or when that little side trip resulted in an eye injury that retarded his comeback attempt. Or when he first lied about the circumstances under which he was hurt. Or when he was little too exuberant and indiscriminate while spraying champagne during the pennant-clinching celebration.
Somewhere along the line, though, an executive decision must have been made that enough was enough.
This is curious. The list of Myers' boo-boos is long and well-documented. But the only really serious incident came in June 2006, when he was arrested and accused of hitting his wife, Kim, during an argument on a Boston street. The case eventually was dismissed.
At the time, the Phillies supported the Myerses throughout their ordeal and let Brett make his next start. A year later, they traded for pitcher Julio Mateo at the deadline, even though he was facing domestic-assault charges at the time. They stood behind reliever J.C. Romero after he tested positive for performance-enhancing substances.
That's not a criticism of the team, by the way. All clubs must balance a sense of civic responsibility against the responsibility to try to win for the fans who pay good money for tickets.
Teams don't want a roster full of outlaws. But, with rare exceptions, ballplayers aren't choirboys and Boy Scouts, either. They're just human beings with highly specialized skills that bring them money and attention. And human beings are far from perfect.
Nobody would deny that Myers has done some dumb stuff. Least of all Myers himself. But outside of the ugly and unforgivable confrontation with his wife, his missteps haven't been particularly heinous.
Maybe the organization is holding it against him that he didn't immediately say that he had too much to drink and fell out of his Escalade when he blackened his eye, first claiming that he was injured playing catch with his son. Maybe some suspect that he still hasn't been completely forthcoming.
Well, several years ago a young prospect was in a parking-lot fight outside a bar in Clearwater and was badly hurt. His version of what happened was contradicted by the police report on almost every point. The Phillies decided not to give up on Cole Hamels, though.
It also might be that the Phillies think Myers isn't worth the trouble anymore, because his talent no longer counterbalances the occasional redneck moments.
Then again, he pitched for at least a while with a painful hip that required surgery last May. He's still a guy who was the Phillies' Opening Day starter in 2007 and 2008 and was the closer in the second half of the season in 2007 when they won the division. Since he was on the disabled list most of the year, he likely will have to settle for a 1-year contract with a low base to try to re-establish his market value.
"We're looking for pitching and trying to add depth, particularly in the bullpen and at the back end of our rotation if we can," Amaro said yesterday during his media briefing.
The Phillies won't even look at Myers to fill those roles, though. And it's still hard to understand why. *
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