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Phils to get Rowand for Thome

Phils to get Rowand for Thome

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PHILADELPHIA -- Jim Thome is heading to Illinois for Thanksgiving, and staying there.

Phillies general manager Pat Gillick confirmed Wednesday that the Phillies have agreed to a deal that sends Thome to the White Sox for center fielder Aaron Rowand and two top prospects, returning the prolific home run hitter to his home state. Philadelphia also acquired left-handed pitcher Giovanni Gonzalez and another pitcher, believed to be southpaw Daniel Haigwood.

The White Sox will pay slightly more than half the remaining $46 million on Thome's contract, or $24 million. Thome waived his no-trade clause to join the White Sox, and is expected to have a physical on Friday in Chicago.

"We have a tentative situation with the White Sox only on both players passing physicals," said Gillick, still hard at work late Wednesday afternoon. "We were talking to a lot of different clubs about different things. This was one that came about in the past couple of days."

Thome grew up in Peoria, Ill. His family still lives in the area, and he is often found at his nearby hunting lodge during the offseason. He left his beloved Cleveland after 12 seasons, when he signed a six-year, $85 million contract with the Phillies in Dec. 3, 2002.

At the time, the signing represented a major coup for the Phillies, who were spending expected revenue from Citizens Bank Park. Thome clubbed a NL-Leading 47 homers that season and drove in a career high 131 RBIs, then followed that with a 42-homer campaign in 2004.

Injuries to his back and right elbow led to his worst professional season in 2005. He batted .207 with seven homers in 59 games, his fewest since the 1994 season.

He spent two weeks on the disabled list in May, then returned there for good on July 1, eventually having season-ending surgery on his elbow. During that time, Ryan Howard shed his prospect label on his way to winning the National League Rookie of the Year.

Though his resume includes 430 home runs, the 35-year-old Thome had played his final game for the Phillies.

"When I leave the game of baseball someday, I want people to recognize that I always put my teams first," Thome told The Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday night. "That's what I love about the game - being part of the team. I see in Ryan Howard what someone saw in me when I broke into the big leagues. And now it's time for both of us to seize the opportunity ahead of us. It's a win-win situation.

"I really enjoyed my time in Philadelphia, and I want to thank my teammates and the fans for a heck of a ride."

With Howard staying put, trading Thome became the likely scenario for Gillick, who while with Toronto traded Fred McGriff to make room for John Olerud. In his first trade as Phillies' GM, Gillick wasted little time in finding a match with the defending world champions. Even if free agent Paul Konerko returns, Thome would be used as a designated hitter.

"Howard and Thome gave us some excess at one position," Gillick said. "It would have been great if we would have been in the American League with the DH."

Rowand's defense has to be viewed as a major improvement -- he committed just three errors -- and his right-handed bat helps offset a largely left-handed lineup. The 28-year-old batted .270 with 13 homers and 69 RBIs in 157 games, and stole 16 bases. He established himself as a starter in 2004, when he hit .310 with 24 homers.

"We've had interest in a number of players, and Rowand has always been a guy who (director of Major League scouting Gordon Lakey) thought would be a good Phillie," Gillick said. "Rowand gives us a right-handed hitter. In this park, he'll hit 15 to 20 home runs. We were overloaded left-handed and gives us a good defensive center fielder. He's a hard-nosed player who's played on a championship team."

Rowand earned $2 million in 2005, and will receive $3.25 million next year, with a club option in 2007 for $5 million. He has a player option of $3.25 million for 2007.

Rowand, a very popular player and clubhouse leader, was understandably surprised to leave the White Sox.

"I'm still in shock right now," he said. "There have been rumors all throughout my career whether I'd be gone, but it's a shock. It's the first time I've been traded and I've been with the White Sox for my entire career. They're the ones who drafted me and my heart is in Chicago right now. It's just something you have to deal with as far as being in a profession where there is business involved."

The trade creates much needed flexibility for a Phillies' payroll that is expected to be around $95 million in 2006. Thome was to earn $15 million next season, which included the final $2.5 million of a $10 million signing bonus. He'll make $14 million in 2007 and 2008, and $13 million if his 2009 option vests. If not, he'd make $3 million that season.

With the White Sox paying more than half of what's left -- the Phillies had nearly $78 million committed to 11 players -- Gillick has some extra freedom.

"We have more flexibility if this thing is brought through, but we would probably need more," he said. "We'll explore everything, but if we think something will improve our club, we'll move on it."

The Phillies are still trying to re-sign closer Billy Wagner, and could be pursuing a free-agent starter. It has been speculated that they couldn't afford Wagner without moving some salary. Dealing Thome enhances the Phillies' ability to improve in those areas, and still afford Wagner.

The Mets are Philadelphia's chief competition for Wagner, and have offered a three-year, $30.25 million contract with a $10 million option for a fourth season. Gillick said he spoke to Wagner's agent, Bean Stringfellow, on Wednesday, and made an "adjustment" to Philadelphia's previous offer.

The previous offer was believed to have been for three years and $29 million. Gillick wouldn't elaborate on what adjustment had been made, but said he planned to talk to Wagner next week.

"We're still optimistic," said Gillick.

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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