LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Blame Alfonso Soriano. Because the prized free-agent slugger declined Philadelphia's offer to protect Ryan Howard, the Phillies seem to be suggesting more and more that Pat Burrell will be their left fielder in 2007. "If we would have signed Soriano, we probably would have had to made some other moves that would've allowed us to do what we wanted to do," general manager Pat Gillick said on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings. "Soriano was probably the most complete player out there."
The main other move would've been finding a new home for Burrell, whose 29 homers and 95 RBIs were still considered a disappointment by some in the organization, partly because he hit .222 with runners in scoring position, and partly because he became too susceptible to inside fastballs. As recently as 2005, Burrell was a dangerous threat with RISP, batting .313 -- and the Phillies are hopeful that he can be again. In fact, Dallas Green challenged Burrell to be that guy, again. "Guys like him are tough to come by," said Green, senior advisor to Gillick. "This kid, if he gets his priorities and focus straight, can recoup. It's his decision. He has to look in the mirror and recognize where his career is headed. It's either headed north or south. This is a crossroad for him." Green doesn't like the direction in which Burrell is heading, either. With the beleaguered left fielder potentially re-entering the team's plans, Green hopes Burrell with re-direct his energy. Green noted Burrell's swift path to the Majors; he was a No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft, debuted during the 2000 season, and had a breakout season in 2002. A rough 2003 followed, but Burrell fared better in 2004 and 2005. An inconsistent 2006 season followed, marred by a poor September. Take away a 3-for-3, two-homer game on Sept. 29 and Burrell batted .222 with three homers and eight RBIs in September. This intensified the team's efforts to trade Burrell, a process which began more than a year ago. The obstacles in Gillick's way include a blanket no-trade clause (though Burrell is believed to be willing to waive for the right trade), $27 million he is owed over the next two seasons, and a chronic right-foot injury that sapped his mobility. Despite being willing to absorb a fair portion of the $27 million, Philadelphia is still having a difficult time finding a taker. He's been linked to Baltimore, San Francisco and San Diego, though the Phillies can't give him away and be left with three outfielders. "I haven't had any further developments at all (on Burrell)," Gillick said. "If somebody wants to make an equitable trade, or something we think makes sense, we'll trade anybody."
Anybody except Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.So if Burrell is to be the man again, he'll have to concentrate on being the man, Green said. "In professional baseball, if you're going to be the big guy, you have to pay the price for being the big guy, and you have to be willing to sacrifice and keep that focus and attention to what you're doing every single day," he said. Much has been written and said over the years about Burrell's extracurricular activities, and they never seemed to be a problem when he was producing. Green said it's the nature of the beast. "Even (in 2005), we saw some cracks in the armor that weren't encouraging," Green said. "He was still swinging at some balls that he shouldn't be, and it looked like the learning curve wasn't going forward as much as it should. As a youngster, he had that great word, potential, that we keep looking for. I have to assume that we've done all we can to help him and make him understand that that's what has to happen, and at 30 years old, it's up to him to look in the mirror and recognize [how to fix what is wrong]. ... We play 162 [games] and hope to play a little longer. It only takes six or seven months of total sacrifice to get back on track, and that's what he has to decide to do." "Pat's a good-looking guy, is single and has a lot of money," Green continued. "That brings distractions. It's how you handle those distractions and whether you can look in the mirror and recognize that maybe those distractions are hurting you. Whether you think they're hurting you or not, the perception is that people see you doing things that maybe you shouldn't be doing and wonder why. He's capable of stopping all that by putting up some numbers." If Burrell returns, Gillick feels the left fielder can return to his productive ways. The GM visited Burrell in Arizona a few weeks ago, and came away optimistic. The veteran told Gillick, among other things, that his right foot felt better. "I don't think he's a problem," Gillick said. "We talked about a number of things. The guy wants to play every day. He wants to do well. He wants to win. He likes playing in Philadelphia. I don't see any problem with him." Assuming Burrell chooses to be the solution.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.