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Notes: Pitching Phils' main focus

Pitching remains Phils' main focus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, a sprawling city unto itself, contains many pathways and directions.

The Phillies remain on the same road in their search for pitching.

"Our concentration is pitching, both starting and the bullpen, but we'll wait and see," general manager Pat Gillick said, after a day of meetings and information gathering. "I can't say it's a sure thing, but it's a possibility."

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After missing out on lefty Randy Wolf, who was believed to have been offered more guranteed money, the Phillies have turned to other options. Gillick put the odds at 50-50 that the player or players acquired would come via trade over free agency.

The challenge is finding a pitcher of interest. Trade options include Oakland's Dan Haren and Joe Blanton, but both would fetch significant bounties. As for the remaining free agents, Gillick suggested that he's not excited about other pitchers (Jason Jennings, Bartolo Colon, Matt Clement) who are also coming off injuries. That said, the team is believed to be among the nine that will watch Kris Benson's audition next week.

Gillick closed the door on a possible return for Jon Lieber and Freddy Garcia and offered that Kyle Lohse's return was unlikely, since he's looking for a contract comparable to what Gil Meche signed last winter (five years, $55 milion).

While the pitching market is a slow road, Aaron Rowand appears to fading from the rear-view mirror, despite public proclamations that the Phillies would like their center fielder to return. They last spoke to his agent, Craig Landis, on Friday, and the snag continues to be length of contract, not total dollars.

"There's a possibility," Gillick said. "We'd like to have him back. We want him back. He's the type of player who's good on our club, good for the fans. He plays hard, but we have to look at length of contract."

Five years is believed to be too long for the Phillies.

With Torii Hunter's five-year, $90 million pact from the Angels and the five-year agreements signed by the Angels' Gary Matthews ($50 million) and the Dodgers' Juan Pierre ($44 million) last offseason as a guideline, Rowand -- who is two years younger than Matthews or Pierre -- is seeking similar compensation.

Sources indicate that the Phillies are offering a three-year deal and may be willing to include a vesting option for a fourth year, based on plate appearances, at $12 million to $14 million per season. Rowand's camp is holding out for more.

Rowand's other suitors may share the Phils' sentiment, and that may help them. The White Sox, Rangers and Dodgers have cooled on the idea of five years.

The Yankees have emerged as a possible destination for Rowand should they include center fielder Melky Cabrera in a deal for Twins ace lefty Johan Santana, but hey might not go that long even with an unlimited payroll. New York general manager Brian Cashman said Monday that his club hasn't explored outfield options, though that's largely because it hasn't needed to.

Other teams like the Cubs were believed to be interested, though they are seeking a lefty bat like Japanese on-base machine Kosuke Fukudome.

Winter Meetings

Aftermath of Wolf: Selling free-agent starting pitchers on Citizens Bank Park has always been a daunting task, since the park favors hitters.

Wolf was no exception, and he told this to Gillick, then signed a one-year deal with the Padres, who play in spacious PETCO Park.

"He's the only guy who's voiced concern," Gillick said. "He's always voiced concern. I talked to him last year and talked to him this year, and he always makes some remarks about the park which are quite unfounded."

In 25 career starts at Citizens Bank Park from 2004-06 -- some which came while recovering from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery -- Wolf posted a 4.47 ERA. Though it's an unfair comparison due to the small sample size, Wolf allowed five runs in five innings in his lone start at PETCO Park.

While Gillick said he wasn't wasn't disappointed to miss out on Wolf for the second straight season, he clearly wasn't thrilled.

"Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. It didn't work out last year and it didn't work out this year, so it's pretty evident that he doesn't want to play for our team. If somebody doesn't want to play and be part of the team, it may be better that he play someplace else."

Wolf didn't return a request for comment.

Quotable: "This is where they bring the witness protection people." -- Overheard by a Phillies employee on the sheer size of the Opryland Hotel

Philling in: Free-agent third baseman Pedro Feliz is still blinking on the Phillies' radar, but below obtaining a starter and a left-handed-hitting outfielder on the priority list. ... Cross off Trot Nixon from the list of outfield possibilities. ... Philadelphia spoke to the agent for outfielder Geoff Jenkins, and appears to be competing with San Diego, Texas and Tampa Bay. Jenkins is believed to be seeking a three-year deal in a weak market for corner outfielders. He's only an option if Rowand leaves and Shane Victorino or Jayson Werth move to center field. ... The Phillies are still interested in right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, of Japan's Hiroshima Carp, though the buzz is that he'll land in Seattle. The Mariners have reportedly increased their pitch to four years and $45 million. ... Former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis is attending the meetings. He and former NHL star Mario Lemieux are part owners of the Altoona Curve, the Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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