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Phillies One of Five Teams Expressing Interest in LHP J.P. Howell

A Solid Lefty Would Give the Phillies One of the Top Bullpens in the National League

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COMMENTARY | According to MLB.com's Bill Ladson, the Phillies are one of five teams interested in left-handed reliever J.P. Howell. Other teams interested include the Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners.

Howell appeared in 55 games for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012 with 42 strikeouts and a 1.212 WHIP. He would add a second left-handed bullpen option to pair with Antonio Bastardo, who was inconsistent last season following a promising 2011 with a 0.931 WHIP.

Howell has an interesting history with the Phillies, taking the loss in the deciding Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. Could he join the team he reluctantly helped win the title in '08?

In 2012, the Phillies did not have an effective bullpen and lost 16 games in which they led in the 7th inning or later. If they had been able to convert even three-quarters of those games into wins, they would have finished with a record of 93-69 and beat out the St. Louis Cardinals for a wild card spot.

Consequently, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. entered the offseason with relief pitching at the top of his wish list. He filled that need by signing the best available 8th inning set-up man in Mike Adams to a 2-year $12 million deal with a vesting option for a 3rd year.

Amaro also rounded out the back-end of the starting rotation with a 1-year $2.5 million deal for LHP John Lannan. He is now left with about $9 million under the luxury tax to add some depth to either the outfield or the bullpen.

After five straight NL East titles, the Phillies suddenly find themselves looking up instead of down at the competition.

The Nationals, once the bottom-feeders of the division, are now the most complete team in baseball. They have been relatively quiet this offseason, but have added Denard Span as a legitimate leadoff hitter and Dan Haren to solidify one of the top rotations in all of baseball.

The Braves beat out the Phils for the services of B.J. Upton, adding some right-handed power and a speedy center fielder capable of hitting at the top of any lineup. He will fill some of the void left by Chipper Jones, but is nowhere near as consistent a #3 hitter.

On paper, the Phillies look to be back in the hunt for 2013, but health questions still remain. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley all missed significant time last season and will need to be healthy and back to normal if the Phils hope to compete with Washington and Atlanta in the NL East.

During a press conference on Tuesday to introduce their new third baseman, Michael Young, Amaro addressed some of the questions still facing the club, the most pressing of which is if they will add a right-handed power bat via free agency or trade.

"As far as the outfield situation is concerned, we're still trolling through the possibility of adding another piece there," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "And we're also considering the possibility of a double platoon."

With newly acquired Ben Revere slated to man center field, the remaining platoon options would be some combination of Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix.

At this point, Mayberry and Nix are platoon players at best and are better suited coming off the bench as left and right-handed power bats. Brown and Ruf have higher expectations but bigger questions and will have to prove themselves. Both will likely be given every opportunity to win a full-time starting job during spring training.

"Yeah, I think there are some guys that can help us, but there are also guys on the trade market we've looked into," Amaro said. "We'll see what works for us."

Cody Ross is the most prevalent free agent name being thrown around, but he will have his pick of several potential suitors including the Texas Rangers.

A trade isn't out of the question, but it would be trickier. Amaro already traded away his two best assets - Vance Worley and Trevor May - in the deal that brought them Revere. Without them, the Phillies have vastly fewer top-tier prospects than teams with deeper systems.

Baseball America named LHP Jesse Biddle the Phillies #1 prospect, but it would be surprising if Amaro let any more young pitching talent get away. But that doesn't mean he won't consider it if the return justifies the price.

Alfonso Soriano and Vernon Wells have been linked to the Phillies recently, but both of those trade scenarios don't seem to have progressed past the "tire kicking" stage.

Either trade would net the Phillies an aging outfielder well past his prime who is owed a ton of money over the next two years. It's hard to imagine Amaro trading pitching prospects - or even Domonic Brown - for such little return.

Still, I get the feeling Amaro isn't quite done yet. He may not pull off another blockbuster deal, but he has the room to add depth, which would be wise considering the injury risks on this team. Adding J.P. Howell would sure take a lot of pressure off of an aging rotation.

Scott Lentz is an award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker from the Philadelphia area. He is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports and TheGamingAdvisory.com. For questions, comments or more baseball talk, follow Scott on Twitter: @scottlentz27

All stats and figures courtesy of baseball-reference.com.

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