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Pence talks heating up, with the Phillies nudging toward the lead

A source says that Houston's Hunter Pence was told during last night's game in St. Louis that he was being pulled due to a trade but then he wasn't taken out.

That mid-game mind change raises the question about whether Astros ownership really wants to deal the All-Star outfielder.

There has been a suspicion all along that ownership didn't want to trade Pence, who is the favorite player of longtime owner Drayton McLane. Incoming owner Jim Craine is said to like Pence very much, too.

The Astros told Pence about a week ago that they did not want to trade him, nor did they expect to. Houston also informed Pence and interested teams that it would need to be overwhelmed to deal him.

Well, it may be happening.

Pence, a hustling outfielder with an awkward running style and high batting average, is suddenly very popular on the trade market. The Phillies offered top first base prospect Jonathan Singleton, top pitching prospect Jarred Cosart and a third prospect, only to be rebuffed. But rather than bow out, as initially believed, Philadelphia still appears to be very much in the mix. It seemed possible that the Phillies might even be willing to part with left-handed-hitting outfielder Domonic Brown, long considered their No. 1 prospect and their current rightfielder, although that was unconfirmed.

"Ruben [Amaro] is very determined,"one person familiar with the talks said about the Phillies' GM's resolve to acquire a right-handed-hitting outfielder in general.

Astros baseball people have been told by incoming owner Jim Crane to pare the player payroll to $60 million, and the other players Houston has on the trade market -- pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers and even outfielder Michael Bourn -- are not drawing the same type of interest as Pence.

Meanwhile, the action is so hot and heavy around Pence now that some folks are starting to think he will be traded. One person close to Pence said he now expected him to move, though another said the opposite.

The Braves and Red Sox are also known to be in the mix for Pence, along with a reported five other teams. But the Phillies, because of their high, publicly-known offer, strong resolve and longtime relationship with Astros GM Ed Wade, who was formerly the GM in Philadelphia, are viewed as probably having the inside track. The Phillies have been too left-handed for a while, and need to add a right-handed hitter.

Philly also has interest in Carlos Quentin of the White Sox, as do the Braves, but while Chicago has been talking to teams about Quentin, it is not certain that it will trade him. White Sox GM Ken Williams is described by rivals as being in a mood to shake things up, but the White Sox are in the race in the AL Central, making the situation delicate.

The outfield market is a fascinating one, with several solid righthanded hitters available, including San Diego's Ryan Ludwick, Oakland's Josh Willingham and Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton. The Indians and Pirates are among other teams interested in an outfielder. The non-contending Nationals are, too, but only a centerfielder would suffice for them.

ANTONEN:Why last-place Nats are looking to buy

Cleveland makes a lot of sense for Ludwick, an ex-Indian, and is pursuing him even after acquiring Kosuke Fukudome on Thursday, while the Braves, Reds and Phillies also have considered him. Willingham, a better hitter than Ludwick but not as good a defender, would also interest the same teams. Other available outfielders include Coco Crisp of Oakland and perhaps the Royals' Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera, although Kansas City does not seem anxious to trade either player.

The multitalented Upton has drawn interest from as many as six National League teams, including the Nats, whose GM, Mike Rizzo, is a family friend from his days scouting and signing B.J.'s younger brother Justin for the Diamondbacks. The Braves make some sense for B.J. Upton, as well. Some scouts love him and believe he will emerge as a star with a change of scenery.

But right now, Pence seems to be the rage.

• The Rangers and Padres are getting more serious about Heath Bell. People around the game see Texas as the favorite to land the Padres' All-Star closer, though there was no evidence of progress late Thursday. Rangers manager Ron Washington recently questioned current closer Neftali Feliz's drive. The Padres asked Texas for three prospects back for Bell, reported Scott Miller of CBSsports.com. If the Rangers get Bell, it is said to be up to Washington whether he will close with either Bell or Feliz. Bell looks like the better choice at the moment, though it's hard to know how Feliz would respond to a demotion.

• There is no sign yet of the Rockies lowering their steep asking price for Ubaldo Jimenez. The Yankees look like the best match.

VERDUCCI:Why Rockies are dangling Jimenez

• Talented Mariners left-hander Erik Bedard's long-awaited showcase is Friday night vs. the Rays at home. The Red Sox are among a few teams interested in Bedard, who has not pitched since June 27. There reportedly is new concern about Clay Buchholz's back ailment, which could make Boston more interested in a pitcher. Ultimately, Bedard is seen as likely re-signing with Seattle, as he loves the city and they like him.

• The Dodgers are telling teams that they'll want a significant piece for starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, but there is still a big question as to whether he would accept a trade. The Red Sox, Tigers, Indians and Rangers have interest.

• The Rays have a lot of nice players who could be traded, starting with Upton but not ending there. They will take inquiries on pitchers Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, J.P. Howell and Kyle Farnsworth, DH Johnny Damon and first baseman Casey Kotchman, .

• According to Jim Salisbury of Comcast Philadelphia, the Phillies are still looking at Padres reliever Mike Adams. He makes sense for Philly as a relief arm who isn't a free agent until after 2012, since righty relievers Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge are both free agents after this season.

• The Giants are still interested in a catcher. The reeling Reds have shown no inclination to trade Ramon Hernandez, but they could do so if they called up big prospect Devin Mesoraco. The Nationals have put a big price tag on Ivan Rodriguez, who is said to be fine physically.

• One big reason why the White Sox wanted to get Jason Frasor was to take pressure off Jesse Crain, who was on the verge of being overworked.

• The Brewers, Diamondbacks, Pirates and Indians are among teams looking at solid Dodgers infielder Jamey Carroll, who was terrific in place of Rafael Furcal.

• The Brewers also are considering Furcal, according to Ken Rosenthal of Foxsports.com

• Fukudome lead the NL with 4.34 pitches per plate appearance, according to @timdierkes.

• As Chris DeLuca of the Chicago Sun-Times pointed out, Carlos Beltran is a .366 hitter (30 for 82) with 11 home runs and 19 RBIs in 22 postseason games, the third-best average in history (min. 80 AB) behind Hall of Famers Lou Brock (.391) and Paul Molitor (.368).

• Giants GM Brian Sabean said of the Beltran acquisition, "We owed it to the city.'' Not sure what he meant by that since they won the World Series last year. Beltran is terrific, but San Francisco also is pretty nice, with or without him.

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