PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies are close to signing free agent Wes Helms to a two-year contract, making the veteran the favorite to become the team's starting third baseman.
Once a top prospect with the Braves, Helms batted .329 in a situational role with the Marlins last season. After signing an $800,000 contract with Florida, he belted 10 homers and drove in 47 while appearing in 140 games.
After the All-Star break, Helms batted .385, and was especially impressive at Citizens Bank Park. He went 6-for-14 (.429) with three doubles, a home run and five walks.
No one with the Phillies would confirm the agreement, which could be announced as early as Thursday, but general manager Pat Gillick told the Philadelphia Daily News
on Wednesday night that the Phillies are "absolutely" close to finalizing a deal.
A story posted on the paper's Web site, citing industry sources, said that Helms would be guaranteed about $5.5 million for two years with an option that could raise the total value of the package to more than $8 million.
Helms is an instant upgrade over Abraham Nunez, who batted .211 season with two home runs and 32 RBIs. Improving that position has been on Gillick's to-do list since the season ended. The move would return Nunez, a fine defender, to a fill-in role. Aramis Ramirez was never really an option, and former University of Pennsylvania quarterback Mark DeRosa signed a three-year deal with the Cubs.
After being used primarily as a late-inning defensive replacement at first for Mike Jacobs, Helms expressed the desire for more playing time. He won't get it at first, where MVP candidate Ryan Howard is entrenched.
The Phillies apparently have not made an offer to free-agent Alfonso Soriano or met with his representatives as of Wednesday, according to a person close to the situation. This puts to rest conflicting reports stemming from an MLB.com story on Tuesday that said the team had made a proposal. General manager Pat Gillick confirmed that a meeting is scheduled for Thursday afternoon, though that doesn't necessarily mean that an offer will be made at that time. Soriano is expected to command as much as $120 million, and the Phillies may not be willing to go that high.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.