Q.  Anything on that at all as far as where that sits?

BUCK SHOWALTER:  I know Dan was going to meet with him a little bit today.  I think.  I know that Nate and his agent were talking for the first time in about a week.

Q.  Is Nate here or just over the phone?

BUCK SHOWALTER:  No.  He was working out at the time.  So he called him back afterwards.

Q.  How do you feel about that one, Buck?  Nate returning?

BUCK SHOWALTER:  Do I want him to?

Q.  Do you feel good it could come to that conclusion?

BUCK SHOWALTER:  We have plans in place in case he doesn't.  He better, you know.  Biggest one is Nolan.  We'd like to have Nolan and Nate playing and healthy, but you have to have contingency things set up in case it doesn't happen.

You value a player a certain way, and all of a sudden somebody comes in and values him completely different the way you do, you have to have the ability to say no.  I think Nate understands that as much as we'd like him back, but he has to do what's best for him and his family just like we have to do what's best for the Baltimore Orioles.

Our payroll, just maintaining the way Peter's allowed us to is $23 million.  With Jones, Markakis -- who am I missing?  Three or four more.

Q.  Johnson.

BUCK SHOWALTER:  Johnson.  I was looking the other night, just the increase to keep those guys.  Our payroll is going up.  They earned every penny of it.  Thank God that we have them.

Q.  Buck, you talk about payroll, there's talk about payroll disparity and some of these big TV deals.  Is it the same old situation it's been the last 20 years?  How do you see it?

BUCK SHOWALTER:  If you look at it that way, level playing field, all those things, people like Billy and bob in Oakland and the players there and Joe and Tampa, they've done a great job of eliminating those excuses.  Some people don't like those excuses eliminated because they're always able to talk about woe is me.

But that's something we really try to take out of our locker room, and I think Bobby probably did it too out in Oakland, and Joe's done a great job in Tampa.  It is what it is.  You got to know who you are, and you got to know who you're not.

We've had some things come up already like here that we go we know that's where we can't go.  If we're going to keep weeders and Jones and Markakis and these guys, you've got to know who you are.  That's why the farm system is so important.  We'll continue to dwell on the Machados and the Strops and the Bundies.  We have the 24th pick this year in the draft instead of the 4th, 5th, or 6th.  I don't know if that's good or bad.  It might save us bonus money.  We also have a 36th pick.  We have a quick pick after that we got from the -- what do you call it?

Q.  Lottery.

BUCK SHOWALTER:  It's a balance thing.  We got two picks before 40.  I don't know why I know that.  Yeah, I do know why.

Q.  Can you talk about how aggressive that you and Dan were terms of changing the club last year?  Say, like bringing in a McLouth when that situation was there.  And do you get trapped in a year two, now that those guys have done something for you, you can't be as aggressive in the second year?

BUCK SHOWALTER:  I don't know about trapped.  I hope we don't have to make any moves.  Our starting pitching was pretty much intact for the first half of the season.  Injuries are part of it.  That's another thing that we on purpose didn't let float in there, using injuries as an excuse, unlike a couple of clubs that we got a little tired of hearing about their problems.

It is what it is.  It's part of the game.  It's an opportunity.  I was real proud of the organization and how quickly the depth -- I'll tell you, the job that was done.  And these guys have heard it ¿¿ by our AAA staff, Ron Johnson and Mike Griffin.  I marvelled at the evaluation skills they had.  I spoke to Ronny, it seemed like every night about -- he wouldn't just base it on a statistic.  He said, this guy can help you do this.  He was in the American League east the year before.  It was invaluable.