Citing Philadelphia’s payroll flexibility after dumping Bobby Abreu (and quite probably planning on dumping Pat Burrell), the New York Times’ Ben Shpigel predicts the Phillies will “augment an already impressive lineup by adding a right-handed power hitter to balance a left-leaning lineup.”

They have shown interest in three of the best on the market ” Aramis Ramírez (above), Gary Sheffield and Alfonso Soriano ” with each fortifying a deficiency in the field as well.

The Phillies need a third baseman to complete an All-Star infield of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, and the 28-year-old Ramírez, an excellent run producer and solid defensive player, fits the bill.

On Monday, Ramírez, who hit 38 home runs and drove in 119 runs for the Chicago Cubs last season, became a free agent when he opted out of the four-year, $42 million contract he signed in 2005. His decision does not guarantee that he will leave the Cubs, who own exclusive negotiating rights with him through Nov. 11, but he is expected to consider several other teams, including the Phillies, the Los Angeles Angels and the Los Angeles Dodgers, before deciding.

Ramírez is also perhaps the one player available who could replace Alex Rodriguez at third base if the Yankees change their minds and decide to trade him this off-season. He would also fit in nicely in Boston, as protection for David Ortiz, if the Red Sox deal outfielder Manny Ramírez.

A lower-cost alternative may be Sheffield, who is perturbed that the Yankees intend to exercise their $13 million option for next season and then trade him. Sheffield would rather sign a multiyear deal as a free agent .

If the Phillies acquired Sheffield, they would be, considering the Abreu deal in July, essentially swapping right fielders. It may not take more than a pitcher like Ryan Madson, who could be used as a starter or a reliever, or a midlevel prospect or two to obtain Sheffield.

The Phillies are set at second base with Utley, so they would be interested in Soriano as a corner outfielder and only, perhaps, if they can free up some salary by persuading Pat Burrell to waive his no-trade clause.