Amaro: Phillies may need to get 'creative' to fill holes
Club's needs include center fielder, corner outfielder, third baseman, setup man
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. insists everything is OK.
But fans are anxious. Their team, which has been used to getting nearly everybody it has wanted in winters past, lost the sweepstakes to acquire B.J. Upton and Angel Pagan and couldn't get to the finish line on a deal that would have sent Houston right-hander Wilton Lopez to Philadelphia. That means the Phils still need a center fielder, corner outfielder, third baseman and setup man.
The team's Plan A has fallen by the wayside.
"We didn't really have a Plan A," Amaro said Monday afternoon from the team's suite at the Opryland Resort and Convention Center, site of this year's Winter Meetings. "We had like 10 Plan Bs, because to be frank with you, I just didn't think that the marketplace was all that strong in the beginning. There was not [anything] comparable to [Jonathan] Papelbon out there. There really wasn't. There were some good players out there, and there still are some good players out there, but I don't know there's a difference-maker. Maybe one."
That difference-maker is Josh Hamilton, although Amaro could not bring himself to utter his name in front of reporters.
But are the Phillies in the running for this nameless difference-maker?
"Come on," Amaro said. "Next question."
Make no mistake: the Phils would love Hamilton in their lineup. But at their price. Amaro said the team's payroll will be about the same as last season ($170 million), and Hamilton carries a lot of risks with a hefty price tag.
He seems too risky. Well, too risky for now.
Asked specifically if the Phillies had met with Hamilton or his agent yet, Amaro said, "No, but I wouldn't tell you if I did."
That is the truth. Amaro flatly denied the club's interest in Roy Halladay in 2009 and Cliff Lee in '10 before landing them. But the circumstances seem a bit different this time. Halladay and Lee carried fewer risks than Hamilton. They also filled needs. Sure, the Phils could use Hamilton's bat, but they would prefer to invest their money in right-handed bats with power.
A source told MLB.com on Monday the Phillies have interest in Rangers infielder Michael Young, although Texas dismissed any willingness to trade him. But if it would happen (a denial by anybody at the Winter Meetings doesn't mean much), Young would play third base, although some scouts are not convinced he could play a full season there. Philadelphia could bring in somebody like Jeff Keppinger, otherwise the club would go with Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen at third.
Interestingly, Amaro didn't rule out the possibility of third-base prospect Cody Asche making an appearance in the big leagues next season.
"I'm not sure when Asche is going to be ready," he said. "I don't really want to push his progress, but he's done rather well. He's moved really fast. But he should probably be playing in [Triple-A] Lehigh Valley next year. I don't know how long for. He'll dictate how quickly he gets to the big leagues."
If the Phillies pursue a free-agent corner outfielder, Cody Ross is somebody to watch. Ichiro Suzuki also has been mentioned as a possibility. A source said the Phils have talked to Ichiro's agent. If they pursue a corner outfielder from another team, they could have interest in the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano or the Rockies' Michael Cuddyer. Soriano and Cuddyer make sense, because Philadelphia has pursued them in the past. Soriano is owed $38 million over the next two seasons, so the Cubs might have to eat some of that salary.
"He has no trade rights," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said of Soriano, "so we'll keep him informed if it's the right fit for the Cubs -- where we can get better over the long haul -- and it's the right fit for Sori, where it's a place he wants to go and a place he feels he might have an even better chance to win the World Series next year, then maybe it makes sense to pursue."
Cuddyer is owed $21 million over the next two seasons, but one source indicated the Rockies are less willing to eat his contract. Of course, the less money a team is willing to accept, the lesser the return in prospects they can expect.
FOXSports.com reported the Phillies have expressed interest in Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler, but Colorado would want pitching in return. It is unclear how much the Phils like Fowler. Before getting into serious discussions about Fowler, they hopefully would take a look at his splits away from Coors Field. Fowler has a career .882 OPS at Coors Field, but a forgettable .698 mark on the road.
But filling their holes through trades rather than free agency seems more likely than a week ago.
"It's still a possibility, probably a better possibility because each one of these guys comes with a lot of risk," Amaro said. "It depends on the type of player. Clearly, there are more options in certain areas than others as far as free agency is concerned. So if we have to look to try to move players to get players that fit, we may have to go that route. I don't want to move more players out of our system necessarily, but if that's what we have to do to make our club better, we'll try."
The Phillies might have to get creative, too. There has been so much focus on center field, but the only true center fielders remaining on the market are Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino. Bourn could cost too much, and the Phils don't seem eager to reconnect with Victorino. The club could target a corner outfielder and a third baseman, instead, and take their chances with a lesser center fielder.
"If we're going to get an outfielder, I'd prefer to get a center fielder," Amaro said. "But we'll see. Our attention has been on [the corner-outfield market] anyway, so that hasn't changed a lot. We're just trying to keep all of our options open right now."
Amaro said he isn't getting itchy to make a move. But he knows the Phillies can't wait forever.
"I feel comfortable that the options that we have are still good ones," he said. "[John Mayberry Jr.] can play center field if we're real strong on the corners. We could do platooning. There are a whole lot of options that can be done to improve the club. Like I said, this offseason, we're going to have to be as creative as we have to be to make the team better. If it means having two or three platoons, if it means thinking outside of the box to improve in other areas, we're going to have to be as creative as possible, because the market is not a great market."
Could Amaro envision a roster with Mayberry in center field, Domonic Brown and Darin Ruf in an outfield platoon, and a corner outfielder and third baseman from outside the organization?
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.