A crucial offseason arrives for Phillies

A crucial offseason arrives for Phillies

Salisbury on Phillies' potential targets

November 3, 2013, 8:30 am
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Sources tell CSNPhilly.com that Angels corner outfielder Mark Trumbo is high on the Phillies' wish list this offseason. (AP)

The World Series is complete. The parade in Boston is over. Baseball’s offseason kicks into high gear this week with the arrival of the free-agent signing period, followed by the annual general managers’ meetings next week.

For the Phillies, this offseason could have a similar feel to last offseason. (Of course, Phillies fans hope this one is more successful.)

Last offseason, the Phils sought run-producing outfield help, a bullpen upgrade and starting pitching depth.

This winter’s plan is much the same, though there’s an extra-added task at the top of the list: Figuring out who’s going to be behind the plate.

The Phillies have targeted their own free agent, Carlos Ruiz, as the guy they want behind the plate. In fact, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has called re-signing Ruiz “a priority.” The Phils have had plenty of time to get something done with Ruiz, but it doesn’t appear anything will happen before the doors to the free-agent market swing wide open on Tuesday.

Ruiz, who turns 35 in January, is looking for a multiyear deal. That is clear. What’s unclear is his price tag. He had tremendous impact on the club over the life of his recently completed four-year, $13.35 million contract. That was a bargain deal. All signs are that Ruiz believes it’s time to get paid. He is likely looking for a deal with an average annual value that would at least double his 2013 salary of $5 million.

Phillies officials are likely to stress Ruiz's age and poor first half in 2013 as a negotiating point. Ruiz’s agent, Marc Kligman, has recently taken to Twitter to point out his client’s value. Kligman points out that from 2010 to 2013, Ruiz was second on the Phillies in games played and first in batting average, on-base percentage and defensive wins above replacement.

Ruiz hits from the right side, a huge plus in a lefty-heavy lineup, and managers Charlie Manuel and Ryne Sandberg have commented on his value by using him in the heart of the batting order -- everywhere from second to fifth.

Ruiz had a poor first half in 2013 as he battled a hamstring injury and the aftereffects of a 25-game suspension for testing positive for using Adderall, a drug used to treat attention deficit disorder, without clearance from Major League Baseball. Ruiz had such a difficult first half that the Phillies were willing to trade him in July, but other teams passed. He rebounded so well in the second half that the team made re-signing him a priority. It’s amazing how quickly things change in this game.

Brian McCann is the top catcher on the open market, but Ruiz will garner plenty of interest from catching-needy teams. The Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rangers all will be in the market for catching help and the Angels could look to upgrade the position, as well.

If the Phillies don’t re-sign Ruiz, they could look to free agents A.J. Pierzynski or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but neither is ideal. Pierzynski hits left-handed and Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter who hits poorly from the right side.

But retaining Ruiz is the Phillies’ preference.

Moving on to other areas, the Phils will look to add a productive right-handed bat to their outfield.

You’ve heard this here before, but the Phils’ primary player of interest remains Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Some baseball officials believe the Marlins will eventually entertain offers for Stanton; some believe he is staying put. Whatever the case, the Phillies will continue to monitor his status and take their best shot if he becomes available. It will take multiples of top prospects or young major leaguers to get Stanton, and the Phils are thin in both areas. On top of this, the competition to get Stanton will be fierce. But none of this will stop the Phils from taking a number and making a bid on Stanton, who turns 24 this month.

The Angels are making a pair of outfielders, Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos, available. The Phils have long liked Bourjos, a centerfielder by trade, and have tried to get him in the past. Trumbo, a corner outfielder, has averaged 32 homers the last three seasons. Sources say he is high on the Phillies’ wish list. However, the Angels are looking for pitching in return and the Phillies are thin in that area. If the Phils could afford to deal some depth, Anaheim-area native Jonathan Pettibone or Kyle Kendrick might interest the Angels. But, again, can the Phils afford to deal pitching depth when they currently have just two sure things, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, in their rotation?

Staying on the trade front, a hitter like Yoenis Cespedes could interest the Phils if the Athletics make him available.

On the free-agent front, slugging corner outfielder Nelson Cruz would make sense if the Phillies are willing to accept the baggage of his PED suspension. Carlos Beltran could be a fit, as could Mike Morse. Though he hits left-handed, Curtis Granderson could be a fit, especially if the Phils used Ben Revere as trade bait.

Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury are the top free-agent outfielders and their names have already been thrown against the wall as potential Phillies’ targets. Phillies officials will surely investigate both players, but the chance of signing either one appears remote. Both are represented by Scott Boras, who sets huge price tags for his clients and often keeps them on the market until well after the New Year. The Phillies are a team that likes to have its core roster set before then, and people who’ve been cued in on the Phils’ offseason plan say the team does not have an appetite this winter for another $100 million contract. Hamels, Lee and Ryan Howard are all in the middle of contracts originally worth well over $100 million. Early estimates have Choo and Ellsbury seeking deals that could approach that.

The Phillies hope Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez can be their No. 3 starter, though some scouts believe he could be a dynamic, power-armed eighth-inning man. The Phils need help in both areas. Matt Garza and Ervin Santana head a free-agent pitching market that also includes potential reclamation projects Josh Johnson and Phil Hughes.

Relievers like Matt Thornton and Jose Veras could interest the Phils. Veras can work the eighth inning and close. Finding a reliever who can close could be important because Jonathan Papelbon showed serious signs of decline in 2013. Steve Cishek might be a nice fit for the Phillies if the Marlins were to trade him.

The Phillies had their first losing season since 2002 in 2013. Amaro has admitted to feeling the heat and his job could be on the line if the team does not turn things around in 2014. Everything will start with his work this winter.

Amaro has admitted that he will have to be creative to add the pieces the Phillies need. That usually means trades. Other than Hamels and Lee (until July, at least, on Lee), there are no untouchables on this team. In the right deal, the team would entertain offers for Domonic Brown. The Phils would hate to give up a hitting prospect like Maikel Franco or a hometown pitching prospect like Jesse Biddle, but for a dream piece like Stanton, they would have to.

Fire up the hot stove. It’s going to be an interesting offseason for the local nine. And be sure to come back to CSNPhilly.com in the coming days as we take a more detailed look at potential offseason targets for the Phillies. The series begins Monday.