The Phillies are actively exploring alternatives to Pedro Feliz at third base before deciding whether to retain him, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said yesterday.

The team has until Monday to exercise a $5.5 million contract option on Feliz for the 2010 season.

"More than anything else, we want to see what options may be out there for us and decide whether picking his option up is best suited for this club to try to move forward," Amaro said.

"He had a solid year for us," Amaro said. "I like the man personally. He's a great person and a great teammate, but I also believe in trying to improve, and sometimes change can be for the better. It doesn't necessarily mean we're going to, but it's just something that we're thinking about."

Feliz, 34, is a top defensive player but a subpar hitter. In 2009, he batted .266, with a .308 on-base percentage and .386 slugging percentage.

Amaro could pursue a trade. The general managers' meetings in Chicago begin Monday, which may give Amaro time to talk with executives from other teams before making a decision on Feliz's option.

The Phillies' general manager also could replace Feliz with a free agent, although teams have a 15-day window to negotiate exclusively with their free agents. Of the potential third basemen on the market, three are possible fits for the Phils: Seattle's Adrian Beltre, the Los Angeles Angels' Chone Figgins, and St. Louis' Mark DeRosa.

Because the Angels figure to aggressively pursue Figgins and DeRosa is 34, the 30-year-old Beltre stands out. A strong defender with a power bat, Beltre is coming off a five-year, $64 million contract.

Injuries limited Beltre to 111 games and eight home runs in 2009, but that performance might have made him affordable to the Phillies.

Amaro was vague yesterday when discussing payroll flexibility, but the team is unlikely to add significant money to a payroll that exceeded $130 million last season.

Exams for Lidge, Ibanez. Closer Brad Lidge was scheduled to have his right elbow examined yesterday, Amaro said. Lidge might have "loose bodies" in the elbow, the same problem that sidelined lefthander Scott Eyre in September.

Eyre soon will undergo arthroscopic surgery to remove the bodies in his left elbow. He has said he might retire but would consider returning to the Phillies for one more season.

Leftfielder Raul Ibanez had an MRI yesterday to determine whether he needs surgery to repair muscle tears in his groin and abdomen.

Updates on Lidge's and Ibanez's tests were not immediately available.

Phils pick up Lee option. As expected, the Phillies exercised the $9 million contract option for 2010 on pitcher Cliff Lee yesterday.

That does not prevent the team from pursuing a long-term extension with Lee, who is set to become a free agent next fall. Amaro said he had already discussed the possibility with Lee's representative.

Catching depth needed. The Phillies traded or waived four catchers last season, leaving the organization without much catching depth.

Amaro will try to replenish the position and may seek to replace Paul Bako as Carlos Ruiz's backup. The general manager complimented the 37-year-old Bako yesterday for his handling of the pitching staff, but also noted the catcher's "advancing age."

Extra bases. Amaro said yesterday that the team would retain its entire coaching staff. . . . For the Phillies, the Grapefruit League season officially begins with a World Series rematch with the New York Yankees on March 4.