BOBBY ABREU sat in front of his locker and, perhaps for the first time, he al-lowed himself to vent.
"I play hard," the rightfielder said last month as trade rumors swirled - to many fans' delight. "I might not dive. I might not run into walls. I play every day. I play when I'm hurt. I hear what people say. They say I don't play hard. They say I don't care."
Abreu whipped a red uniform sock and tugged it on.
"I care," he said then.
His face set harder than it ever had been in his nine seasons as a Phillie.
"We'll see how they feel about me when I'm gone," Abreu said.
We will now.
And, from the sounds of it, the Phillies won't be splurging on top talent like Abreu again for a while.
Abreu, 32, was traded yesterday, along with starter Cory Lidle, to the Yankees for four minor leaguers in a move that clearly indicated that the Phillies are restocking their depleted farm system and squirreling away money - and not nec-essarily for next season.
The Phillies don't think they will have the starting pitching to contend, so they aren't likely to invest in a veteran who can make the difference.
"Realistically, it's a stretch to say we'll be there in 2007," general manager Pat Gillick said. "I think it's probably going to go a little slower... Realis-tically, the holes we have to fill, it's going to take a while."
So, while Abreu heads to the Big Apple, the Phillies will be hoping their young starters' potential comes to fruition.
In the interim, the Phillies' $93 million payroll next season could decrease from about $30 million to as much as $45 million, the latter number including the departures of Pat Burrell and No. 1 starter Jon Lieber. The nonwaiver trade deadline is 4 p.m. today, and while neither is expected to be dealt, both could be traded in the offseason.
Simply moving Abreu puts the Phillies in a position to spend, if they want to.
"It does give us a lot of flexibility, from a payroll standpoint," Gillick said.
Not that the Phillies expect to stink. The abysmal state of the National League makes them a very dark horse in the wild-card race.
"I don't think it's out of the picture," Gillick said, eager to get a new look at a new configuration. "We haven't won with this group. Consequently, you've got to change the mix."
That will likely include at least one more move, maybe two. The Phillies also designated struggling reliever Ryan Franklin for assignment after moving catcher Sal Fasano - also designated for assignment - to the Yankees last week.
"I understand: They want to rebuild the team," Abreu said, clearly delighted that he won't be around for effort. Actually, yesterday, he was pleased as punch... eventually.
When Phan-A-Vision showed him lounging in the dugout before the ninth inning of yesterday's first game, Abreu, who was scratched from the lineup 10 minutes be-fore the game, merely waved. Fan ambassador Brett Myers finally pushed him off the bench. Abreu climbed the steps out of the dugout and waved, tears welling behind the reflective lenses of his Oakley sunglasses.
"I was almost crying," Abreu said. "It made me feel so good. It was special to me."
It was a rare moment of appreciation from fans who often derided him. Really, considering his role as fan punching bag, there had to be a portion of the 31,375 who were applauding his departure, not his tenure.
Perhaps his new home will be kinder. Perhaps not.
Certainly, Abreu is willing to try it. He reportedly owns a modest apartment in the same building as new teammate Johnny Damon and entertainer Beyonce Knowles. Ten days ago, he listed the Yankees and the Mets, as well as the Red Sox and An-gels, as the four teams to which he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause, for a price.
"It's a good team," Abreu said of joining the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodri-guez, Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera.
Abreu is considered underrated by many of his peers, but he projects to hit fifth in the lineup... in front of Rodriguez, who might go down as one of the best players of all time.
Abreu represents another portion of the aborted plan the Phillies undertook in 2003: spending lots of money on their own players, like Abreu, Burrell, Randy Wolf and Mike Lieberthal, and free agents such as Jim Thome and David Bell.
Abreu seems to have brought the best return.
As a Phillie, Abreu hit .302 with 195 homers, seventh in team history, 814 RBI (seventh), 947 walks (second), 254 stolen bases (sixth), 348 doubles (third) and, perhaps his most impressive statistic, a .416 on-base percentage (fourth).
However, with a fan base soured on him as the team flailed, especially at home, he has eagerly awaited the chance to exit for the past month. In particular, his play in the field became noticeably more aggressive after the All-Star break in a clear effort to display the ability that last season won him his only Gold Glove.
This season, Abreu was on pace to drive in a typical 103 runs, his 91 walks led the majors and his .427 on-base percentage was third in the National League. But his homers were down - eight this season, 14 since the All-Star break last year - and his average was at .277.
The Yankees had to spend money to fill one of their corner outfield holes but, clearly, the Phillies and Abreu blinked first. The Phillies did not receive top pitching prospect Philip Hughes, as they wanted. Abreu did not have his $16 mil-lion option for 2008 picked up, as he wanted.
The move will save the Phillies about $6 million this season, and that's before Abreu's painful money kicks in - he's due $15.5 million in 2007. Lidle is owed the remainder of his $3.3 million salary, the final season of a 2-year deal.
But the Yankees will assume the remainder of Abreu's contract, the crux of the deal. He is owed the rest of his $13 million salary this season, the $15.5 mil-lion next season, then either a $2 million buyout or $16 million for 2008.
The Phillies agreed to pay Abreu $1.5 million to waive his no-trade clause, which remains intact as a Yankee.
Gillick admitted that Abreu's contract and his no-trade clause greatly decreased his trade value. He also admitted that the Yankees insisted on Lidle, since Lieber, a former Yankee, makes more than twice what Lidle makes and, unlike Lidle, is owed money next season: another $7.5 million. There were seven teams interested in Lidle, but moving Abreu to the Yankees was more important than getting a better return for Lidle.
Considering they were taking all of Abreu's money, even the spendthrift Yankees balked at Lieber's extra money.
As for Abreu's option year, only the MVP season that former Phillies manager and current Yankees third-base coach Larry Bowa once predicted for Abreu would make him worth $16 million. Abreu knows that, so not having it vested wasn't that big of a deal for him.
Interestingly, Bowa - a frequent critic of Abreu when he was his boss - openly endorsed any interest the Yankees might have in Abreu when the Yanks visited last month. Bowa has even noted that he claimed No. 53 in Abreu's honor.
Abreu might have to use some of that no-trade buyout money to get it back from Bowa.
In his heart of hearts, Abreu knows it will be a small price to pay.