A Crowd In Phils' Outfield Milt Thompson May Be Traded Away. Jim Eisenreich May Share Left With Pete Incaviglia.

Posted: March 03, 1994

CLEARWATER, Fla. — As the Phillies prepared to move to Jack Russell Stadium yesterday, Milt Thompson, wearing a Philadelphia uniform, packed an Atlanta Braves T-shirt into a St. Louis Cardinals equipment bag.

Thompson has played for all three teams. And if he seemed somber as he performed this task, it was because he knew the count could reach four very soon.

The leftfielder, who platooned so effectively with Pete Incaviglia in '93 and whose grand-slam-saving catch last April came to typify the Phillies' magical season, could be traded before the team heads north.

"Eisy has heard that he'll be platooning in left," Thompson said yesterday, using Jim Eisenreich's nickname. "I've been hearing that he and Inky will be platooning there, and that Wes Chamberlain will be playing every day in right.

"I don't know where that leaves me," he said. "It would be nice to have some sort of explanation from them. But all I can do is prepare myself to play this season. Everything else is out of my control. I've been traded before."

The outfield, one of the club's strengths last season when the left- and right-field platoons worked almost perfectly, suddenly has become a minefield, for a variety of reasons.

* Some key players are urging the front office to keep the veteran Thompson.

"All I know is we need him," said Lenny Dykstra. "All the players in here hope it doesn't happen. You can't replace that kind of experience. Our bench was a big key for us last year."

* Tony Longmire is out of options, and the Phils don't want to lose him. Like Thompson, Longmire hits lefthanded and, not insignificantly, he makes $1 million less than Thompson.

Moving Thompson would seem to make fiscal sense, except that, privately, a few players remain upset that Terry Mulholland was traded for what they think were monetary reasons.

* The Phils want to play Chamberlain more in right to see if he fits their future.

Switching Eisenreich to left wouldn't be a problem for him - "It doesn't matter where I play," he said - but it would mean that Incaviglia continues to platoon. And though Incaviglia refuses to gripe, it's clear he thinks he deserves more playing time.

"The way I look at it," Incaviglia said, "is if I were a rookie who put up the kind of numbers I did in 370 at-bats" - 24 homers, 89 RBIs - ''wouldn't you think I'd have a job today?"

* The most impressive youngster in this camp has been Phil Geisler, another lefthanded-hitting outfielder who many in the organization believe will be ready for the big leagues soon. He provides a little insurance should Thompson be traded and another outfielder flop.

Something like an injury could, of course, render all this speculation moot.

"There are a lot of things that have to be determined out there," general manager Lee Thomas said of his outfield. "Some of them will take care of themselves when they start playing. I'm not trying to avoid the question, but we'll know more in about three weeks."

Thompson's agent, Al Irby, was due in camp yesterday. Sources indicated that while trade talks have cooled, Boston and Atlanta had expressed interest in Thompson.

Thompson knows that if the Phils do trade him, it won't be because they were dissatisfied with his '93 performance - .262 with 14 doubles, four homers and 44 RBIs in 340 at-bats. Yet the reality that he might be unwanted still stings.

"Other than my average not being where I wanted it, I thought I had a pretty good year," he said. "But I know there are other things involved, so I can't dwell on this. Things can happen."

Indeed, what looks to be a curse could turn into a blessing if the Phillies suddenly require an outfielder.

"You never know about this game," Incaviglia said. "Anything could happen. Somebody could get hurt and, boom, they'd have to rethink everything. You just have to forget about it. It will drive you crazy if you dwell on it. You've got to remember that it's a business. One minute they love you and the next minute they don't.

"But I respect the people in this organization," Incaviglia went on. ''They don't make decisions just for the sake of making them. I know that if I'm not playing, it won't be because they don't like me."

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