Phillies reportedly shopping slugger

PHILADELPHIA -- Jim Thome remained uncertain when he will return to Philadelphia's lineup a day before he was eligible to come off the disabled list.

"I'm not a doctor. I don't know," Thome said before Friday night's game with Florida.

Thome was placed on the disabled list on July 1 with tendinitis in his right elbow and acknowledged feeling some discomfort earlier in the week after batting practice.

Thome did not hit Friday but hoped to swing again in the next few days. He also expected to go to the minor leagues for a rehab assignment before he was activated.

"When it's ready, we'll go," Thome said. "We're trying to get over the hump here of feeling better."

Thome was also on the DL in May with a lower back strain and missed another 19 games in what is easily turning out to be the worst season of his career (.207, seven home runs, 30 RBI).

Besides the injuries, Thome is suddenly having to deal with trade rumors. With the July 31 trade deadline approaching, a report in this week's USA Today Sports Weekly said the Phillies had shopped Thome to at least two NL teams.

"This time of year, things like that happen," Thome said. "When you get close to the deadline, things like that come up. I don't know anything about it."

There are several obstacles in a potential deal involving Thome, however, with the biggest being salary.

Thome is due about $12.5 million in 2006 and $14 million in each of the final two seasons of his six-year contract. The Phillies have a club option for 2009 and Thome has a no-trade clause.

Plus, he turns 35 in August.

Thome refused to comment on any scenarios where he would waive the no-trade clause or if the Phillies have approached him about doing so.

"I don't know nothing about it," Thome said. "I need to get healthy and get back before I can worry about anything."

If Thome doesn't go, the Phillies could dangle top hitting prospect Ryan Howard as bait for a frontline starter as they try to make a run in the NL East. Howard, also a first baseman, has been touted as a Thome-like slugger. The only problem is, Thome is blocking Howard's path to a full-time job.

Howard is hitting .250 with four homers and 12 RBI filling in for Thome, with his 11 RBI in July the second-highest total among NL hitters.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who also managed Thome with Cleveland, said he was unaware of any potential deals involving the slugger.

"I think any time you've got a player like Jim Thome and a young player like Howard, I think there will be talks, especially when Jim hasn't been playing," Manuel said.

While Thome will be out for a while longer, third baseman David Bell should be ready to play on Saturday.

Bell (.252, five homers, 30 RBI) did not start for the second straight game, still recovering from back spams that hit him this week while trying to pick up a magazine.

Bell said he felt much better on Friday and would be available to pinch-hit. Manuel said he rested his third baseman as a precaution and started Tomas Perez for the second straight night.

Bell took some swings in the cage, ran and fielded grounders before the game.

"I'm definitely going to play tomorrow," Bell said.