A few years back, the Phillies signed Tom “Flash” Gordon, giving the Yankees, who had offered the reliever arbitration, picks that brought them Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. The Phillies could afford it, as they had their own picks coming back for Billy Wagner, which turned into P Kyle Drabek (still a promising young prospect) and 2B Adrian Cardenas (traded for Joe Blanton).

This year, neither team is interested in stocking youth – at least, not so much that they want to risk getting saddled with fat one-year deals for Andy Pettite, Jamie Moyer, Bobby Abreu or Pat Burrell (above, left) – coincidentally, a pair of old-guy pitchers and a pair of OPS machines.

Optimistically, I’ll guess the Phillies still have a shot at Moyer, and for less than he would get in arbitration. He recently moved his family from Seattle to Bradenton, FL (so his kids can pursue baseball at the IMG Academy), so the Mariners are probably off the table (and spring training would be pretty close – what, he’s gonna be a Pirate?)

But Burrell’s a puzzler. I can understand Ruben Amaro Jr. simply deciding that the Phillies, for the money, can become a better team without him. They were a better team without Abreu, and a better team without the help of Aaron Rowand. Pitching, pitching, pitching.

But is Pat Burrell plus two picks not worth the money? Especially when you might not even have to pay it? If you could just buy two first round picks for cash (as in the NBA), how much would they be worth? I genuinely wonder – since those picks are never traded, it is hard to get a read on market value.

To me, two picks are worth the extra millions Burrell might take were he to opt for arbitration. And on a one-year deal, with little risk of future injury or drop-off, Burrell himself is worth the $14 million he already made. Not to mention, you could trade him.

It seems Amaro thinks more like the hot stove/trade talk specialist Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated, who described Burrell thusly:

Streaky and sullen, he still can still hit 30 home runs (at least in Citizens Bank Joke Yard). Not my type, but someone will probably give him a three-year deal.

Please. Paul O’Neill was sullen. Pat Burrell is mellow. And of course, as I noted the last time Heyman used his clever euphemism for the Philly park, Burrell enjoys no particular edge there: not this year, and not, as the more factually oriented Jerry Crasnick of ESPN notes, ever.

Burrell isn’t as big a beneficiary of Citizens Bank Park’s cozy dimensions as you might think; since the park opened five years ago, Burrell has 74 home runs in Philadelphia and 74 on the road.

“He’s like a Troy Glaus,” said an American League executive. “When he hits ’em, he hits ’em. It doesn’t matter where he’s playing.”

What’s more, how much does the “hitter’s home park” effect really matter if you’re also playing road games at Wrigley, Minute Maid and GABP (all of which, along with Coors and Shea, ranked higher than the CBP this year in Home Run Park Factor). Perhaps the guy should join an NL Central team (two of Burrell’s three postseason home runs came in Milwaukee, too).

Of course, it’s been an article of faith that Burrell ought to get his years and money from an AL team, but if the Phillies aren’t simply really really dumb and really really cheap, then they must be really really scared he won’t. Or, as Julio at Philliesphans.com observes, something else is going on:

An awful lot of clubs declined to offer arbitration to any free agents. Dare I say, a suspiciously large number of clubs?

Yes, he stops short of using the “C” word, by which I mean, “collective wisdom in responding to the shit economy.” I doubt we’ll see an MLBPA grievance, but after all the CC/Manny hype, it could well be an interesting, perhaps surprising month of market-correction signings.

Who knows, the Phillies may yet bring back Pat if his dream deal isn’t out there. Or they could take a run at Adam Dunn under the same circumstances. Or maybe all this money will be offered to Sabathia, in which case Amaro’s a genius.

But if cheap is the name of the game, surely there is still no better bargain than a panned-out draft pick playing for $355,000 as a second-year major leaguer. If you don’t have such a player at, say 3B, you end up paying someone like Pedro Feliz $3 million to fill the spot. So perhaps an early pair of draft picks can be worth at least $3 million.

What’s even crazier to contemplate (my Sabathia comment aside) is the thought that the Phillies brass might go after a Type A free agent themselves. Certainly the Yankees have. Meanwhile, the Dodgers offered Derek Lowe and Manny, and the Brewers offered Sheets and CC. Let’s see if we’re talking about their good young players (or the all-stars they got traded for) in 2011.