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“Ruben Amaro Jr. is still predicting a quiet week. But he admitted that the Phillies had some serious discussions with free agents who could fill their most pressing needs: namely, a lefthanded reliever and a righthanded outfielder.
“Honestly, I do not think that anything is going to get done this week while we’re here,” Amaro said as he sat in the Phillies‘ suite at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel on Day 2 of baseball’s annual winter meetings. “That’s subject to change. I will say this: We have had some more substantive discussions with some free agents out there, particularly bullpen guys.”
One player on the Phillies radar: lefty George Sherrill, who was nontendered by the Dodgers after a disappointing season. Sherrill, who earned $4.5 million, struggled mightily in 2010, finishing with a 6.69 ERA in 65 appearances. But his numbers remained solid against lefthanded hitters, who batted just .192 with a .573 OPS against him.
The Phillies were also scheduled to meet with representatives of veteran lefty Dennys Reyes, who posted a 3.55 ERA but struggled against lefthanded hitters last season for the Cardinals.
The Phillies could also make a play for lefty Pedro Feliciano after losing out on his former teammate with the Mets, Hisanori Takahashi, who signed a 2-year, $8 million deal with the Angels.
One of the biggest plot lines of the winter meetings from a national perspective is the free agency of one-time Phillies ace Cliff Lee, who is being heavily pursued by both the Yankees and the Rangers. The Phillies always have maintained dreams of reacquiring the lefty, but reports out of New York yesterday suggested the Yankees were willing to offer him a 6-year contract, something the Phillies are unlikely to be willing to do. So unless Lee takes a discount, a return to Philadelphia seems to remain a longshot.
December 8 Philadelphia Daily News:
“The Phillies don’t have a proven lefthander in the bullpen. This is a hole the size of a pitcher’s mound in their blueprint for returning to the World Series next season. Unless it’s a matter of less concern than how high the players wear their uniform socks.
The Phillies have consistently been on both sides of the issue as baseball’s winter meetings passed the midpoint yesterday. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Charlie Manuel both talked about how improving the bullpen, especially from the left side, is a priority . . . and then added that going without a lefty would hardly be a fatal flaw.
The issue could become moot before long. Representatives for 33-year-old lefthander Dennys Reyes were scheduled to meet with the Phils last night or this morning.
Multiple sources said that Reyes has identified the Phillies as his top choice and that the team, in turn, has been aggressively gathering background information about him.
His best season was 2008, when he appeared in 75 games and posted a 2.33 earned run average for the Twins. With the Cardinals last season, he had a 3.55 ERA in 59 games. For his career, he has held lefthanded hitters to a .238 average, although, oddly, lefties batted .307 against him last season.
Amaro yesterday downplayed the idea that he’ll make any moves before flying home tomorrow, but said he “wouldn’t hesitate” to move if he was “comfortable” with the opportunity before him. It might be significant that the team released pitchers Jesus Sanchez and Yohan Flande yesterday, clearing space on the 40-man roster.
December 8 Philadelphia Daily News:
“What if the Phillies could add a hitter who has a career .282 batting average against lefthanded pitching, a hitter who in 2007 boasted a slugging percentage nearly identical to the .532 Jayson Werth posted in 2010, a hitter who in 2009 notched 21 home runs?
What if that hitter was just 6 months older than Werth, and was harboring hopes of playing another 6 years, and was entering the final year of his contract?
Well, the Phillies could find themselves the recipient of such a player if Jimmy Rollins fulfills the organization’s expectations for him during the 2011 season.
Say what you will about the need to find a righthanded bat to offset the loss of Werth, who signed a 7-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals over the weekend. A renaissance by Rollins would go a long way toward filling the void created by the departure of the Phillies‘ rightfielder and No. 5 hitter.
Problem is, even the club isn’t sure what exactly to expect from its longtime shortstop. The player who hit .288 with an .816 OPS and averaged 20 home runs, 76 RBI and 125 runs from 2004-07 would go a long way toward replacing the offensive numbers produced by Werth over the past few seasons. On the other hand, the player who hit .258 with a .737 OPS and averaged 13 home runs, 59 RBI and 75 runs from 2008-10 would leave the Phillies with one less impact bat than they are accustomed to.
“I would say we have expectations of Jimmy that are higher than they have been,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “At the same time, we can’t necessarily rely on them because he’s a year older. I’m hopeful that he comes in and prepares himself differently, as we talked about. I think he’s committed to doing that. My gut feeling is that he’s going to be closer to what Jimmy was as an MVP than he has been over the last 2 years. I could be wrong, but that’s my gut feeling on it.”
December 8 Philadelphia Inquirer:
“Ruben Amaro Jr. was given a chance to play director of marketing and ticket sales late Tuesday afternoon in his hotel suite at baseball’s winter meetings.
The Phillies general manager has consistently downplayed the idea that he is going to make another blockbuster move like the one that brought Cliff Lee before the 2009 trade deadline, Roy Halladay last off-season, and Roy Oswalt before the 2010 trade deadline.
He has said that the team has limited but flexible resources and it needs to get younger. It’s possible, even probable, that the Phillies‘ biggest move of this off-season will be the subtraction of free agent Jayson Werth, who cashed in his $126 million lottery ticket with the Washington Nationals on Sunday.
At some point, Amaro will add a relief pitcher or possibly two. A righthanded bat remains on his wish list as well. But that’s probably it.
So how does Amaro the salesman pitch the idea that the 2011 Phillies can be better than the 2010 team?
“It would be a tough sell offensively, I think,” Amaro said after another quiet day passed for the Phillies in this Disney World resort. “Let me put it to you this way: Having those three starters through a full season, I think, negates the difference in the production I think we’ll get from the combination of Ben [Francisco] and [Ross] Gload vs. Werth.
“And then there’s the fact that we had down years from almost every one of our offensive players except [Carlos Ruiz]. Is that the right assessment? I don’t know, but that’s how I view it.”
It will be interesting to see if the patrons who have packed Citizens Bank Park and painted the town red for the last four years feel the same way. The theory that three stud starting pitchers like Halladay, Oswalt, and Cole Hamels can erase a lot of offensive ills is a sound one. The Phillies went 49-19 in their final 68 games last season despite scoring three runs or fewer in 27 of those games.
December 8 Philadelphia Inquirer:
“For many of the 31 minutes Charlie Manuel addressed reporters Tuesday, he spoke about how his offense can remain one of baseball’s best, the importance of Jimmy Rollins, and how he would enjoy the challenge of possibly fixing free-agent outfielder Jeff Francoeur.
He answered one question that addressed what his boss, Ruben Amaro Jr., has deemed the top priority this off-season: the bullpen.
“I think he’s definitely right,” Manuel said, “and I agree with that.”
On the second day of the winter meetings, the Phillies had what Amaro called “more substantive” conversations regarding some free-agent relievers. A source said they met with Oscar Suarez, the agent for lefthander Dennys Reyes, during the day Tuesday, but did not offer the pitcher a contract.
They also, according to a baseball source, had discussions with the agent for lefthander George Sherrill. Both Reyes and Sherrill would be cheaper alternatives to filling the lefthanded void in the bullpen left by the departure of J.C. Romero. The Phillies remain interested in the top-tier lefties, like Pedro Feliciano, Brian Fuentes, and Arthur Rhodes, but they could price themselves out of the team’s range.
Payroll concerns will definitely limit the Phillies‘ pursuit of a reliever, especially because they could still add a righthanded bat through free agency. Amaro said he has limited flexibility in his budget. The Phillies are also unlikely to sign any pitcher who would cost them a draft pick as a Type A free agent.
The source said the Phillies have told agents they are in no rush to sign a pitcher. The team will continue to kick the tires on all of the bullpen options.
Reyes, who will turn 34 in April, was 3-1 with a 3.55 ERA with St. Louis in 2010. He has a 2.63 ERA over the last five seasons, spent with Minnesota and St. Louis. But even though Cardinals manager Tony La Russa limited Reyes to facing a high percentage of lefthanded batters, he walked 21 while striking out 25.
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