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Wagner to Market; Padilla to arb; All Quiet on the GM Front

A scattering of items from today's Philadelphia dailies:

Wagner tells Phils he'll test market

Billy Wagner said last week that he intended to test the free-agent market.

The closer's agent, Bean Stringfellow, officially communicated those intentions to the Phillies yesterday. Stringfellow told the Phillies that while Wagner and his family liked their latest offer, they want to see what else is out there.

It should bring some attention. The Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves could take a look at Wagner, the 34-year-old lefthander who went 4-3 with a 1.51 ERA and 38 saves this season. The Phillies' latest offer is believed to be for two guaranteed years, with an option for a third year, worth $27 million overall.

Wagner also wants a no-trade clause, but it is believed that the Phillies have not offered one for the length of the contract.

As with the GM search, the Phils could wind up blundering into the best outcome through no merit of their own.

We've gone over the pro and con arguments as to bringing back Wagner; my own view remains that you just don't drop $25-30 million on a closer in his mid-30s with an injury history, no matter how well he's performed. The Phillies obviously wanted him back very badly, and still want him back: further down in the article, Amaro is quoted as saying, "He still remains our top priority. We still think we have a very good chance of bringing him back in red pinstripes."

But the no-trade clause seems to be the sticking point, and perhaps there's a sense that while trying to bring in a new, high-powered general manager, it might send the best signal to basically suck out his last chunk of discretionary budget. Wagner can't negotiate with other teams until 15 days after the World Series ends; by then, the Phils should have their new GM. If nothing else, this means that the GM will make the decision--not Dave Montgomery, Ruben Amaro Jr., and Dallas Green.

Granted, Amaro could wind up as the GM (though every rumor and whisper strongly asserts that they're going outside the organization). Or they could predicate a hiring decision on the new guy's enthusiasm for pursuing Wagner. But by then, there will be competition--and if Boston or the Mets, two deeper-pocketed teams, get in, it's hard to imagine the Phils keeping up. Remember, if they wind up paying (say) $30 million for three years, the howls of protest that they didn't get Wagner over the summer for $6 million less will get deafeningly loud--a grim prospect for a team trying to convince their fans they have a clue.

Meanwhile, a pro forma arbitration offer will net us two high draft picks next June, which could go a ways toward restocking the farm system.

The other news nugget of note is that the Phils evidently are planning to offer arbitration to enigmatic starter Vicente Padilla.

[R]eports from Chinandega, Nicaragua - hometown of Phillies starter Vicente Padilla - had him starting and pitching six innings for the local team in a game Saturday.

The Phillies discouraged Padilla from pitching in winter ball the past two offseasons. Elbow tendinitis cost him parts of both 2004 and 2005, though he finished this season healthy. Now, it appears, they will let him do what he wishes.

"I'm not surprised he's pitching. We don't have any problem with him throwing," Amaro said. "He's one of those guys who likes to pitch. As long he doesn't overextend himself, he can do what he wants. It depends on how many innings he pitches."

Amaro could not confirm that Padilla was pitching, but his former agent, Rudy Valenzeula, last night said he expected Padilla to participate in the Nicaraguan league in December.
Asked about league sources who indicated that the Phils might cut ties with Padilla, who has been inconsistent, Amaro replied, "We do not foresee that happening."

I think this is good news. Padilla's still just 28, he showed again in July and August what he can do when healthy, and he's probably a better bet to win 12 or 14 games with a 4 ERA in 2006 than, say, Gavin Floyd.

And finally, no GM-search announcements have been forthcoming. With Yankees GM Brian Cashman expected to make up his mind whether or not to return to the Bronx today or tomorrow, that could change soon; but in the meantime, Marcus Hayes reports, "Montgomery has not responded to interview requests from the Daily News in almost 2 weeks." Take from that what you will.