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Friday, November 1
Phillies interested in top free agents this offeason

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- With deep pockets for the first time in years, the Philadelphia Phillies are prepared to spend whatever it takes to add high-profile free agents this offseason.

Phillies general manager Ed Wade confirmed Friday that slugging first baseman Jim Thome is expected to visit the team next week. Thome hit a club record 52 homers this season for the Cleveland Indians and is the most coveted hitter in this winter's free agent market.

"We view him as our top priority,'' Wade said. "We'd like to show him what we're about, give him a feel for our team, show him the new the ballpark site.''

But the Phillies aren't stopping at Thome. They're also interested in San Francisco Giants third baseman David Bell and second baseman Jeff Kent, and want to add a top starter. Wade said he has contacted agents for Atlanta's Cy Young Award duo, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Seattle's Jamie Moyer and Kansas City's Paul Byrd.

"We've made contact with a number of players,'' Wade said. "Our priorities are to add a run-producing bat to put in the middle of the lineup, to try to add an experienced starter, and add more experience in the bullpen.''

Thome would fill the void created by the departure of third baseman Scott Rolen, traded to St. Louis in July. Thome hit .304 with 118 RBI, 122 walks and had a .445 on-base percentage this season. He has hit at least 30 homers seven straight years and has driven in more than 100 runs in six of the last seven seasons.

The Indians, who have won six division titles and been to the World Series twice during Thome's tenure, met with him and agent Pat Rooney on Thursday. They are prepared to make Thome the highest-paid player in club history, but it's not likely they'll be able to match an offer from the Phillies that could be in the range of $15 million per season. Cleveland, however, is the only team that can talk money with Thome until Nov. 13.

Bell hit .261 with 20 homers and 71 RBI for the Giants last year. He played with Seattle in 2000 when Phillies manager Larry Bowa was a coach with the Mariners.

"We believe we have the potential to add Bell and Thome,'' Wade said.

If Thome decides to stay in Cleveland, the Phillies would target Kent. The 34-year-old former NL MVP hit .313 with 37 homers and 108 RBI this season in helping the Giants reach the World Series for the first time since 1989.

Though he has spent most of his career at second base, Wade said Kent wasn't opposed to playing first. The Phillies are hoping to replace Travis Lee, who hit just 13 homers and drove in 70 runs -- among the worst numbers of any starting first basemen in the majors.

With Randy Wolf, All-Star Vicente Padilla, Brandon Duckworth and Brett Myers, the Phillies have the potential for a solid rotation. A No. 1 starter such as Maddux, who has won four Cy Young awards, or Glavine, who has two Cy Youngs, could make the staff one of the best in the league.

Maddux, 36, was 16-6 with a 2.62 ERA this season, and Glavine, 36, went 18-11 with a 2.96 ERA. The Braves are hoping to retain both pitchers, but it's possible they might not afford to keep both. The Phillies, though, would have to be reluctant to give either pitcher a longterm deal considering both will turn 37 before May.

Moyer, who turns 40 next season, was 13-8 with a 3.32 ERA for the Mariners this season. He has averaged 15 wins over the last seven years.

Byrd, a former All-Star with the Phillies in 1999, won a career-high 17 games for the Royals this season.

The Phillies, unwilling to spend a lot of money in the past, are in position to overpay for Thome and the others. They are saving more than $23 million over last year's payroll on contracts for Rolen ($8.6 million), right-hander Robert Person ($6.25 million), center fielder Doug Glanville ($4 million), right-hander Terry Adams ($2.7 million) and reliever Ricky Bottalico ($1.5 million).

"We believe the new ballpark in '04 gives us a different revenue stream, we want to bridge to the new facility and we want to try to put a championship club on the field in 2003,'' Wade said.

After finishing two games behind Atlanta in the NL East in 2001, the Phillies won 80 games this season -- their 14th losing season in 16 years.

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