Mailbag: Will Burrell return in 2007?

Mailbag: Will Burrell return next season?

I recently heard general manager Pat Gillick sing the praises of Pat Burrell and his 29 homers when asked about him. Should I take this to mean that Burrell will be back next season?
-- Dale M.

This was one of the more popular e-mails received over the past week. Gillick made those remarks on Oct. 23, when asked, "Do you see Pat Burrell as your left fielder next season?" His complete answer was: "He's certainly a strong possibility. You don't find 29 home runs or 95 RBIs in the street. Even though offensively he didn't produce the way he would like to or we would like him to, there's a very strong possibility that Pat will be in left field."

Gillick understands trading Burrell is going to be a daunting task, just as it was when he tried during the season. In addition to Burrell having the final say as to whether he wants to be traded, teams are wary of paying the bulk of the remaining $27 million he's owed through 2008.

That doesn't mean Gillick isn't going to try. He's going to aggressively shop Burrell and see what comes of it. I think his answer was simply reminding fans and potential buyers that Burrell can be productive (his .222 average with runners in scoring position notwithstanding). If you were selling your house, would you tell people it had a leaky roof and needed new plumbing? No, you'd say that you just bought new carpets and remind potential buyers that your house is still one of the nicer models on the block.

Ryan Howard led the Phillies in batting average, homers and RBIs. Who was the last Phillies player to do that?
--Mark P.

John Kruk was the last to lead the Phils in the three Triple Crown categories, compiling 21 homers, 92 RBIs and a .294 batting average in 1991. Lenny Dykstra hit .297 that year, but in only 246 at-bats, so Kruk earns the distinction. Bobby Abreu enjoyed some pursuits in his time with the Phillies, often leading the team in batting average, but not in homers and RBIs. In 2001, Abreu led the team in homers (31) and RBIs (110), but finished second in batting average to Marlon Anderson.

What will happen to Eude Brito and Fabio Castro next year?
-- Ben S.

Brito could fill one of the Phils' bullpen spots. Lefties Aaron Fultz and Arthur Rhodes aren't expected back, and Brito and Matt Smith might have the inside track on jobs. As for Castro, he'll likely start the season at Double-A Reading and might wind up as a starter. The Phillies love his arm and are free of their Rule 5 obligations. The Phils' bullpen is going to be an interesting challenge for Gillick as he looks for a competent eighth-inning setup man who can fill in if closer Tom Gordon gets hurt, and reliable middle-inning options to combine with Ryan Madson and Geoff Geary. Of the group of free agents who was here in 2006, Rick White has the best chance to return.

Shouldn't the Phillies be concerned about Jamie Moyer's age? He pitched well for the Phillies, but isn't it risky to commit $10.5 million for the next two years?
-- Daniel W.

Assuming good health -- Moyer has averaged 32 starts a year for the past decade -- he's a near guarantee to throw at least 200 innings. That means he'll be keeping the Phillies in games, and not overworking the bullpen every fifth day. Obviously, 43-year-old pitchers typically have shorter shelf lives, but the Phillies believe it's not going to be an issue. Moyer's veteran savvy and stabilizing influence on the rotation earned him this deal. It's a low-risk proposition.

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When will the Phillies sign Chase Utley and Howard to long-term deals? I'm worried about them someday signing with the Yankees or Red Sox. How much would the Phillies have to pay them?
-- Marie F., Reading, Pa.

You won't have to worry about that until at least 2009 for Utley, and 2011 for Howard, when each respectively can become free agents. As important as Utley and Howard are, there's no urgency to lock them up long term, especially not for Howard. Utley, at least, is due a nice raise in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Still, committing too much money to them might prevent them from bringing in an expensive free agent, with names like Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez (if he opts for free agency) topping their list.

Though the Phillies expect to have a payroll of roughly $94 million for 2007, they'll have $40.5 million committed to five players: Burrell, Moyer, Jon Lieber, Tom Gordon and Jimmy Rollins. Brett Myers ($3.3 million in 2006) and Aaron Rowand (assume roughly $4 million) bumps that to around $50 million for seven players. Now factor in approximately $7 million this season for Jim Thome and you're at $57 million. That leaves $37 million for the remaining 18 roster spots.

Long-term deals for Utley and Howard at this point just aren't a top priority right now. That to-do list includes re-signing Randy Wolf, trading Burrell (which could help some payroll issues), finding a bat (who ideally can play third base) to protect Howard and rebuilding the bullpen.

I don't know about the rest of the fan base, but I love having White in the 'pen. When he was on this year, he was unhittable. He logged some great innings during the last two series of the year. Do you see the Phillies re-signing him and giving him a bigger role than mopup/long relief, like they did this past year?
-- Sam L., New York City

There's a chance White could return, as he pitched well enough after being claimed off waivers in June. If he returns, however, it would be in the same role of middle relief.

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