Phillies eye starting pitching, trades at meetings

Phillies eye starting pitching, trades at meetings

What other offseason moves should the Phillies make?

December 8, 2013, 6:00 am
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After running down high-priced talents such as Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay and digging deeply into their wallets to extend the contracts of homegrown players such as Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels the last few years, the Phillies seem content in taking a patient, conservative approach to constructing their 2014 roster.

Whether that strategy gets them out of fourth place and back into the hunt in the NL East remains to be seen. Frankly, on the eve of the winter meetings, the Phils don’t look to have improved a whole lot.

With the opening bell to the meetings ready to sound Monday morning in Orlando, the Phillies are a team gambling on the production and health of an aged nucleus. But as team officials cross their fingers and hope for one more run by the last vestiges of the club that won five division titles and a World Series from 2007 to 2011, there are holes to fill. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. heads to the winter meetings not looking to spend on big names, but to add complementary pieces to support his expensive returning lot.

Having added free-agent rightfielder Marlon Byrd and re-signed catcher Carlos Ruiz, Amaro will try to address a number of areas at the meetings. He could tinker with his outfield mix. He’d like to add -- and maybe subtract -- a bullpen piece. But his priority is adding a starting pitcher that can slot in behind Hamels, Lee, Kyle Kendrick and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.

“Starting pitching is the priority,” Amaro said. “We need to add a starter.”

Don’t hold your breath for an elite arm. The Phils don’t have the trade chips to get into the David Price sweepstakes and they don’t appear to be willing to write huge checks this winter. Right from the get-go, Amaro targeted lower-priced, mid-market free agents like Byrd while crossing off higher-priced, top-tier free agents. In recent weeks, the Phillies pursued free-agent starters Ryan Vogelsong and Scott Feldman, both of whom signed elsewhere. The Phils’ interest in those two pitchers showed further their desire to focus on mid-market guys.

This approach means the Phils will probably not pursue remaining free-agent starters such as Matt Garza and Ervin Santana. They will have an eye toward pitchers such as Jerome Williams, who recently became a free agent when he was not tendered a contract by the Angels.

The Phils have seen two bullpen targets -- Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb -- go off the board in recent days. They have added Brad Lincoln, a 28-year-old right-hander that could have untapped upside, to the mix, but would still like to bring in another arm to complement the existing corps of Mike Stutes, Jake Diekman, B.J. Rosenberg, Justin DeFratus, Antonio Bastardo, Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon.

Of course, Adams and Papelbon are X-factors, Adams because he is coming off shoulder and hernia surgery and might not be ready in April, and Papelbon because the team has been trying to trade him since, oh, July. Papelbon remains in play. If the Phillies can find a taker for part of the $26 million that remains on his contract over the next two seasons, they could probe the market for remaining closers. But that’s all dependent on moving Papelbon and that won’t be easy. He suffered a drop in velocity in 2013, worked alarmingly hard to get outs, and looked to be a pitcher on the decline.

While it won’t be easy to move Papelbon, an eye-popping trade still remains possible at these meetings. Executives from rival clubs say the Phils have been busy proposing and listening to trade offers, some involving Domonic Brown. Brown is inexpensive and contractually under control through 2017. He also hit 27 home runs for a team that needs power. The Phils aren’t in a hurry to move him, but they would, possibly as part of a package or even three-team deal, if they got back young, difference-making outfield talent. Tough to pull off, but not impossible. Don’t be surprised if you hear Brown’s name a lot this week.

Also don’t be surprised if you hear the names John Mayberry Jr. and Ben Revere. Both are trade possibilities as Amaro continues to look to rework the outfield. The Phils might have a difficult time trading a rotation piece like Kendrick, but he could be in play for the right return.

Amaro said he has no untouchables, even though he does. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have full no-trade protection and it would be difficult to imagine him moving Hamels or Lee. Check back in July about Lee, however.

“We’ve talked about everybody on our roster,” Amaro said on the subject of trades. “Every single player.”

The meetings end with the Rule 5 draft on Thursday. The Phils have the fourth pick and are generally active in the draft. They could also lose a player in the draft. Players that could interest other clubs include pitchers Seth Rosin and Hector Neris and outfielder Leandro Castro.