Lieber not concerned with trade talk
Veteran righty might be odd man out of Phillies rotation
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Jon Lieber Express rolled into the players' lot at Bright House Networks Field on Wednesday, though rumbled loudly is probably a more accurate description.Driving a freshly minted custom Ford F-650 truck -- a flashy blue number with 47-inch wheels that collects just 12 miles per gallon -- Lieber's new toy created as big a stir as the Phillies pitcher's arrival itself. "It's ginormous," said center fielder Aaron Rowand, who owns a smaller, yet still extremely large truck. The customized blue-and-black creature stands more than nine-feet tall and weighs about 24,000 pounds. Lieber's model has six doors and a satellite dish. "I was impressed with how well-built it was and how well it drives," said Lieber, who still owns a GMC 2500. "It's just like a jacked-up Suburban." The base price is $94,000, but Lieber paid considerably more for the upgrades. "When you hit the gas, does fire come out?" righty Brett Myers asked. Having picked up his new ride earlier this month, Lieber arrived after an eight-hour, 500-mile journey from his home in Mobile, Ala. He climbed out of the monstrosity and entered the clubhouse, where many of his teammates were happy to see him, even though they expect they might be facing Lieber at some point this season, rather than playing behind him. Lieber's imminent departure had been predicted since Philadelphia re-signed Jamie Moyer and added starting pitchers Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton to the rotation alongside Myers and Cole Hamels, making Lieber the most available starting pitcher. The Phils had hoped Lieber would bring relief help, specifically an eighth-inning setup man, in return. But when potential suitors turned away, the Phillies opted to bring six starters to camp, and Lieber appears to be the odd man out, on the eve of when pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report. "The only thing I can control is what I can do on the field," Lieber said, adding that the media should get used to that response. "That's it. I can't worry about what's going on around me. All I can worry about is what I can bring to the field every day. Everything else will take care of itself." The "everything else" could be a trade, another Phillies starter going down with an injury, or one of the starters working out of the bullpen. Eaton has already offered to do so. Lieber said on Wednesday he would do what was needed, though manager Charlie Manuel said he views him as a starter. "We know we've got six starters, and our pitchers know we've got six starters," Manuel said. "But you never know when you might have four or three. Things have a way of working out. You have to wait and see what happens. "He's heard all the rumors and he was concerned about that. I felt like we had a good talk [a few weeks ago] and he understands things. He wants to pitch for us and be part of our team. I want him ready when the season starts. I hope he's coming into Spring Training with the idea that he's going to pitch for us."
Of that, Lieber is sure, saying that he never would have signed a three-year deal with the club in 2004 if he didn't intend on honoring it. Lieber applauded the job done by general manager Pat Gillick, but he understands the business side of the sport."The way you've got to look at it, it's the business part of the game," he said. "If you don't realize that by now, [you never will]." Lieber didn't need to finish his thought. He knows a season in which he posted a 4.93 ERA -- his highest as a full-time starter -- and slipped from 17 wins in 2005 to nine last season, created uncertainty about his ability to contribute. At times, his conditioning was cited as an issue. In the season's final week, Manuel juggled his rotation so Lieber wouldn't pitch in Florida. "There's no question," Lieber said. "I was disappointed in myself with last year. I didn't pitch up to my standards. But last year was last year." As for his girth, Lieber said it's something he's dealt with his whole career. "When I weighed 215, they were on me about my weight," said Lieber, who prefers to pitch at around 235, but finished the season at 248. "I've heard it my whole life. I'm not worried about it. If you guys think I'm fat and out of shape, you guys will say it. I feel great. I'm ready to help." Lieber insisted that his feelings weren't hurt by the offseason's moves, and promised not to worry about the next six weeks. He knows he'll still earn $7.5 million this season, and be on a Major League roster somewhere. Should Lieber need to relocate, he has the wheels. The Ford's 200-gallon diesel tank, which costs about $400 to fill up, is still three-quarters full.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.