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Phillies turn attention to bullpen

Phillies turn attention to bullpen

PHILADELPHIA -- In between countless telephone conversations and meetings about Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, the Phillies had an important issue simmering on the back burner:

The bullpen.

The Phillies still have not addressed a relief corps that needs help, especially with closer Brad Lidge and left-hander J.C. Romero recovering from elbow surgeries. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said during the Winter Meetings that Lidge and Romero might not be ready to open the 2010 season. In that worst-case scenario, the Phils currently would have only Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin and a bunch of youngsters starting the year in the bullpen.

"We're getting closer on a couple of fronts, but nothing is a done deal," Amaro said late this week. "Hopefully we'll be able to announce something within the next couple weeks. But I feel pretty confident that both J.C. and Brad will come back at full force. But there is always a question mark when you have to deal with guys rehabbing and trying to get back and ready for the season. You want to be cautious with them, you know?"

It has been believed that the Phillies would sign two free-agent relievers to fill the void, but Amaro said they might sign just one and have younger pitchers take the remaining jobs. In that scenario, if everybody is healthy, the bullpen would include Lidge, Romero, Madson, Durbin, a free agent to be named and two young pitchers such as Sergio Escalona and Antonio Bastardo.

There have been a few free agents linked to the Phillies in recent weeks -- Fernando Rodney, John Smoltz and Mike MacDougal -- but there are indications Philadelphia is looking elsewhere. Free-agent right-hander Miguel Batista is available, and the Phillies have liked him in the past. Batista went 7-4 with a 4.04 ERA in 56 appearances last season with the Seattle Mariners.

Free agent right-hander Bob Howry is available. He went 2-6 with a 3.39 ERA in 63 appearances with the San Francisco Giants. The Phillies also have liked him in the past.

Free-agent right-hander Kiko Calero went 2-2 with a 1.95 ERA in 60 appearances last season with the Florida Marlins.

Right-hander Chan Ho Park appears unlikely to return. Amaro said left-hander Scott Eyre has a better chance to return than Park, but it sounds like the Phils are keeping firm with their offer.

"I would assume Park is going to go someplace else, because the price point between us and Park is just too far apart," Amaro said. "Unless something were to change in the next couple of nights, I would say that it looks less probable that we would bring Chan Ho back."

The Phillies certainly would like Rodney for their bullpen because he has closing experience, but his price also appears too high. Smoltz could be an option, but because of questions about his health, the Phillies are uncertain if they can commit to him knowing they already have health concerns with Lidge and Romero.

"We have to be careful and make sure we have somebody we think is going to be healthy and durable for us," Amaro said.

So far this offseason, the Phillies have upgraded offensively at third base with Placido Polanco and upgraded the bench with Brian Schneider, Ross Gload and Juan Castro. They got one of the best starting pitchers in baseball in Halladay, although it cost them Lee.

But they still need help in the bullpen, which hurt them in the World Series.

Amaro said he feels confident the Phillies will improve.

Todd Zolecki 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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