Phightin' Words: Options for the Phillies' bullpen
When asked to characterize the Phillies' negotiations with Carlos Ruiz, Ruben Amaro Jr. said: "I’d like to bring Carlos back. We’ll see what happens. It takes two to tango." (USA Today Images)
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Perhaps the most interesting thing to happen from a Phillies' perspective on a slow first day at baseball’s general managers’ meetings Monday was a quick exchange between Phils’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and his Miami Marlins counterpart, Dan Jennings.
Amaro was speaking with reporters in the hotel lobby when Jennings walked by and tapped him on the shoulder. The two men exchanged pleasantries and Amaro said, “We’ll talk later,” as Jennings headed for the elevator.
Amaro turned back to the reporters who couldn’t help but laugh at the exchange because, well, it’s no secret that the Phils have long monitored the availability of Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton.
“That’s not happening,” said Amaro, picking up on the joke.
For the record, Jennings himself said last week that he wasn’t trading Stanton.
But the scene was amusing, nonetheless.
The general managers’ meetings often signal the start of baseball’s offseason, that time of the year when GMs and their staffs try to improve their clubs for the coming season.
The Phillies, coming off their first losing season since 2002 and a fourth-place finish in the NL East, have plenty of work to do (see story).
In no particular order, they would like to:
Find a right-handed bat for their outfield.
Improve their outfield defense.
Improve their starting pitching depth with a mid-rotation arm.
Add a reliever who can pitch in the seventh or eighth inning.
And, of course, come up with a starting catcher, maybe by re-signing free agent Carlos Ruiz (see story).
The answers to how Amaro addresses these needs will play out over the coming weeks. For now, one thing seems sure: The Phillies will not be players for the biggest names on the free-agent market, players like Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury, both outfielders. Catcher Brian McCann does not appear to be a target, either.
A number of people with knowledge of the Phillies’ offseason plan say the club will pursue mid-level free agents. The team has three players (Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard) making more than $20 million per season and, at least for this year, does not have an appetite for more.
Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson represent the next tier of free-agent outfielders after Choo and Ellsbury. All three have rejected qualifying offers of $14.1 million for next season and all three come with risks -- Cruz a PED suspension in 2013 and health issues for Beltran and Granderson. The Phillies like all three players, but may have reservations about spending what it might take in years and dollars to sign one of these players.
Amaro said the Phillies were “looking all over the globe” for players. That would indicate that they have done some due diligence on Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, but there’s no evidence the Phillies are in on the high-priced starter.
“We have to be as open-minded as we can,” Amaro said. “We can’t cut off any markets. I don’t know how realistic some of the markets are, but we’ll keep our eyes open.”
Mid-range free agents that the Phillies have discussed include starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo, relievers Joe Smith and Joaquin Benoit, and outfielders Marlon Byrd and Franklin Gutierrez.
Amaro has already made some offers to free agents, but he would not say which ones. It is likely that he has exchanged proposals with Ruiz. Amaro long ago said he wanted to re-sign the catcher.
“We’re still chatting with him,” Amaro said.
Amaro was asked to characterize the negotiations.
“Typical,” he said. “As I said before, I’d like to bring Carlos back. We’ll see what happens. It takes two to tango.”
Amaro mentioned that there are several other catchers on the free-agent market. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzyski are two of them (see story). The Phillies have discussed both of them, as well as potential trade targets.
“There are other targets,” Amaro said. “We’ve made inquiries about a lot of different guys. There are a number of guys available and there aren’t as many seats as people think.”
Amaro said he hopes to have a catcher by December.
“You can’t let things drag out too much,” he said. “You have to get your business done.”
In other matters, Amaro said he and team officials have discussed free-agent Roy Halladay’s future. The Phillies seem content to let him establish his market before they make a move, if any.
“We’ve talked about [bringing Halladay back],” Amaro said. “We’re keeping our eyes open on him. We’re not sure how the market is going to develop for him. But we haven’t ruled out bringing him back.”