Brown, Papelbon in play as Phils eye pitching

Brown, Papelbon in play as Phils eye pitching

Salisbury on Halladay retiring and needs at the winter meetings

December 9, 2013, 8:45 pm
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A baseball official tells that the Phils seem particularly keen on trading Jonathan Papelbon. (USA Today Images)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Regardless of whether Roy Halladay was in the Phillies’ plans for 2014 or not, his retirement Monday illuminated the team’s biggest remaining need this offseason.

Starting pitching depth.

Ruben Amaro Jr. and his lieutenants are pounding the pavement -- or the hallways -- looking for starting pitching at these winter meetings.

“We are more focused on trying to add starting pitching depth more than anything else,” Amaro said before heading off to a meeting with another club or an agent (he would not specify) late Monday afternoon. “Ideally, it would be a No. 2 or a No. 3 or whatever you want to call it.”

Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee lead the Phillies' rotation. After that, the Phillies have Kyle Kendrick, Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone. Kendrick struggled mightily in the second half of 2013. Gonzalez, a Cuban defector, has never thrown a competitive pitch in the United States. Pettibone missed most of the second half of 2013 with a shoulder strain. Other than Ethan Martin, who might be best served moving to the bullpen, and Adam Morgan, who missed significant time in 2013 with a shoulder issue, the Phils don’t have much. They used 10 starting pitchers and had the second-worst starters’ ERA in the NL (4.41) in 2013. They need more quantity -- and quality -- in 2014.

The Phils have targeted mid-level starters this winter. They made offers to Ryan Vogelsong and Scott Feldman, but both signed elsewhere. They do not appear to be in the market for remaining top-tier (read: high-priced) starters such as Matt Garza and Ervin Santana.

Trading for a starter is quite possible. The Phillies are thin on prospects so it’s doubtful they could put together a package for Tampa Bay’s David Price. They might be able to build a package around Domonic Brown to get in the hunt for Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who played minor-league ball under Ryne Sandberg when he managed in the Cubs’ system. Other starters who could be had in trades include Oakland lefty Brett Anderson and Boston right-handers Ryan Dempster and Jake Peavy. All come with fine print. Anderson has had multiple health issues the last couple of seasons and Dempster ($13.25 million in 2014) and Peavy ($13.25 million) are expensive.

As reported here throughout the winter, the Phillies are willing to move Brown in the right deal. An executive from a rival team confirmed that Monday and speculated that Brown would be attractive to some teams.

“He’s available,” the executive said. “They could get value for him. He’s young, inexpensive, under control (contractually) and he had a great year.”

Brown, 26, had an excellent first half in 2013, tailed off in the second half, but still finished at .272 with 27 homers and 83 RBIs. His defense is a concern and the Phillies -- both Amaro and Sandberg -- are on record as saying they’d like to improve their outfield defense.

The Phillies would be employing a sell-high approach if they moved Brown. The return would have to be significant.

Amaro continues to shoot down any and all speculation that the Phillies will trade Brown, but that’s to be expected.

“We don’t comment on rumors,” he said. “Domonic is part of what we’re trying to do moving forward. He’s a very good young player and when you have people on your team that teams have interest in you get rumors. That’s part of the process. [Trading Brown] is not our goal. Our goal is to add, not to subtract.”

Closer Jonathan Papelbon is also very much in play as a trade possibility, though the Phils would likely have to eat a portion of the $26 million that remains on his deal through 2015 to move him.

The Phillies have been trying to trade Papelbon since July, but one baseball official said the club seems particularly keen on the idea lately.

Moving Papelbon would force the Phils to look elsewhere for a closer, but it might free up some money for a starting pitcher.

Amaro would not comment on reports that he wants to deal Papelbon.

“We don’t comment on those reports,” he said. “He’s our closer. He’s still a very important part of what we are trying to do.”