NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tadahito Iguchi's unique contract situation may have ended the Phillies' pursuit of the free-agent infielder before it could begin. General manager Pat Gillick and Rocky Hall, Iguchi's representative, sounded less optimistic that they'd be able to find a way for Iguchi to play for Philadelphia before May 15. "I wouldn't be extremely optimistic," Gillick said.
"It's more of an issue," Hall said. "I don't think it will work. I think there's too much that's going on." To review, because Iguchi was released by the Phillies -- as per a stipulation in a contract he signed with the White Sox before the 2005 season -- he's ineligible to play for Philadelphia until May 15, according to a rule cited by Hall. The Phillies could sign him to a Minor League deal and play him at Triple-A Allentown until May 15. If the Phillies make an offer that is accepted by Iguchi, Hall will begin the process of getting a waiver from the Commissioner's Office that would allow Iguchi to join the team at the start of the season. Hall thinks this is possible because of Iguchi's unique circumstance as a 10-year veteran of professional baseball, seven of which were played in Japan. The Players Association would take up the fight on Iguchi's behalf and could have an answer by the middle of next week, assuming there's a proposal from the Phillies. "The Commissioner's Office isn't going to give a waiver unless it's right," Hall said. "If there's a way that he falls under a certain class of a player -- that he's a seven-year player from another country." If the Commissioner's Office is willing to set a precedent with players like Iguchi, it could trump potential protests from opposing teams, who may be asked to sign off on such a request. Not to jump the gun, but the Mets are believed to have a problem with such an exception. If a waiver is rejected, there is no deal. Hall has already told the Phillies that Iguchi isn't willing to sign a contract and miss the first six weeks of the season. "That's out of the picture," Hall said. "Definitely not." And if it falls apart over this? "It's disappointing, because we spent almost three days of negotiations with the Phillies and it can be all for naught because of that rule," Hall said. Rowand a long shot: Whether it's frustration or not, Gillick termed Aaron Rowand's chances of returning to Philadelphia a "long shot" after a 30-minute meeting with Rowand's agent, Craig Landis.
Landis agreed."We're definitely at an impasse," he said. "I don't predict the future, but I'd say that if they don't change their position, it's rather a long shot. That's a fair assessment on [Gillick's] part." The Phillies are holding firm on a three-year proposal -- and are willing to overpay. They may even go for a fourth year if it seals the deal. Rowand's camp appears to be holding out for five years, but is having a tough time finding a fit, with perceived suitors such as the White Sox, Rangers and Dodgers seemingly going in different directions. Despite Gillick's assessment, Landis said he hasn't ruled out Philadelphia, where Rowand quickly became a fan favorite. "We don't want to shut doors," Landis said. "We haven't committed to anyone else. They just think for their organization, it doesn't make sense to go too long on the contract. They're looking at shorter deals than we would like. That's the problem. We haven't spent a lot of time talking about the money. It really hasn't gotten that specific. It's been philosophical. We would be looking to go back to the Phillies with a long-term commitment. They said they don't want to go too long." Third-base roulette? The blockbuster trade between the Marlins and Tigers may have an effect on the Phillies. With Florida suddenly searching for a third baseman after trading Miguel Cabrera along with Dontrelle Willis to Detroit, it has approached Philadelphia about acquiring Wes Helms, who represents a low-cost alternative at the position. Helms, a disappointment with the Phils last season, will earn $2.15 million for 2007. The team wouldn't mind dealing him, despite the fact it would leave a hole. Helms played for Florida in 2006 and batted .329 with 10 home runs. The Phillies might then turn to displaced Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge. He is owed $19.1 million over the next three seasons, and Detroit would have to pick up a portion of that salary. Bowing out on Kuroda: Highly sought after Japanese right-hander Hiroki Kuroda has scheduled a visit to three U.S. cities: Seattle, Los Angeles and Phoenix. "We're out of the Kuroda deal," Gillick said. "We had a difference of opinion on the contract." The sides met for the final time Wednesday morning, and the Phillies were believed to have presented a new offer that wasn't close to the four-year, $44 million deal that is reportedly being offered by Seattle. Money aside, Kuroda appears to be most interested in pitching on the West Coast. The Benson plan: The Phillies appear to be the front-runners to sign free-agent right-hander Kris Benson, who is scheduled to audition for about nine clubs in Phoenix on Dec. 17. He missed the 2007 season with a partially torn rotator cuff and wants to show clubs that he's fully recovered. Philadelphia is intrigued with Benson because of his willingness to accept a one-year deal. "Kris is probably a guy who's looking at a one-year contract, so from a team's perspective, there's a lot of upside with hardly any potential downside," Clifton told ESPN. Quotable: "I don't want to pay for a Cadillac when I'm buying a Ford Fusion." assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle, on the price of average pitching at the Winter Meetings. Philling in: Philadelphia released pitcher Julio Mateo on Wednesday, rather than potentially go to arbitration with him. He was acquired at the trade deadline. Mateo also had off-the-field issues stemming from an alleged domestic dispute and faces a third-degree assault charge. There are indications that the team has learned his problems are more serious than initially thought. ... The Phillies select 24th in Thursday morning's Rule 5 Draft, but could pick as high as 15th because nine teams ahead of them have full 40-man rosters and can't select a player unless they clear a roster spot by 9 a.m. ET. Outfielder Shane Victorino was the Phillies' Rule 5 Draft pick in 2004. The biggest Rule 5 success is two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.