Phils target Astros Pence; Oswalt makes progress


The trade non-waiver trade deadline is approaching and the Phillies are once again casting a longing eye toward Houston.

Astros outfielder Hunter Pence has emerged as the teams top target as it tries to add a productive right-handed bat to its lineup.

Hes the guy they want, a baseball official familiar with the trade landscape said. But the price is very high.

How high?

The Astros would probably want a package that begins with Domonic Brown. The Phils might also have to include another top talent such as Jonathan Singleton, a first baseman and outstanding hitting prospect, or a pitching prospect.

Action on Pence is high and the Astros will be looking for a big score. If the price soars too high, the Phils could take a closer look at San Diegos Ryan Ludwick or the Cubs Reed Johnson. The Phils have interest in Carlos Beltran, especially if the Mets are going to pick up the approximately 6 million remaining on his contract. But the price for Beltran is also high and the Phillies are reluctant to deal top talent for a player who can be a free agent after the season. The Phillies have always looked to deal for players they can control for multiple seasons. Pence, 28, will not be a free agent until after 2013.

The Phillies are on a tight budget. Their payroll, as recognized by Major League Baseball, is over 175 million and they are within 3 million of reaching the luxury-tax threshold. The Phils would pay 22.5 percent on every dollar they go over 178 million. Pence is owed about 3.45 million for the remainder of this season. That probably would not hold up the Phillies, whose mindset is World Series or bust.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. continued his silence on all matters relating to trades, so it's unclear if he would part with a player of Brown's potential.

Im not talking about trades, he said Friday afternoon.

Pence entered Friday hitting .316 with 11 homers, 61 RBIs and a combined on-base and slugging percentage of .845. He played in the All-Star Game earlier this month.

The Phillies and Astros have matched up on big trades before. The Phils acquired Billy Wagner, Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt in deals with the Astros. Oswalt came to Philadelphia just before the trade deadline last year.

Speaking of Oswalt
Oswalt continues to recover nicely from a bulging disc in his lower back. He threw 50 pitches to hitters Friday afternoon. Manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee were both impressed with the life on Oswalts pitches. So, too, was hitter Wilson Valdez.

He had good pop and a good breaking ball, Valdez said.

Oswalt, who had a series of anti-inflammatory injections in his back earlier this month, said he will throw in the bullpen on Sunday and could pitch in the minors by the middle of next week, putting him in line to rejoin the rotation in the first week of August. Oswalt hopes to make just one minor-league rehab start. Dubee said the plan depends on how the righthander feels.

Lidge activated
Lidge was activated from the disabled list. The erstwhile closer, who has not pitched since October, will work his way back into the bullpen by pitching in some low-leverage situations. His performance, Manuel said, will determine whether he is used in more pressurized situations late in the game. The Phillies hope Lidge can contribute to the bullpen and join Ryan Madson, Antonio Bastardo and Mike Stutes on Manuels list of most trusted relievers.

Madson has made three appearances since coming off the disabled list, none as closer. Dubee said Friday that Madson would eventually work his way back to that role. Bastardo has been closing lately.

Its just a matter of getting him comfortable again, Dubee said. He had just one minor-league rehab outing. We want to make sure hes comfortable with his stuff and his delivery before he goes back there.

To make room for Lidge on the roster, the Phils designated reliever Danys Baez for assignment.

E-mail Jim Salisbury at
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