Amaro not expecting fast moves for Phillies

Some have speculated that White Sox' Carlos Quentin could become a Phillie.
Some have speculated that White Sox' Carlos Quentin could become a Phillie.
Posted: November 18, 2010

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The first domino in the bullpen market fell yesterday, as righthander Joaquin Benoit agreed to a contract worth at least $16.5 million for at least 3 years to serve as the setup man for Tigers closer Jose Valverde.

The Phillies have made their bullpen a priority during the early stages of the free-agent signing period, and if Benoit's new deal is any indication, the market could prove more favorable to the players than it was a year ago.

Last offseason, the most expensive contract doled out to a reliever was righthander Brandon Lyon's 3-year, $15 million pact with the Astros. In fact, Benoit's deal is the richest for a non-closer since the White Sox signed Scott Linebrink to a 4-year, $19 million deal after the 2007 season.

Although the Phillies have moved quickly the last couple of offseasons to sign their top free-agent targets, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said on Tuesday he had a feeling this year's market would be slower to develop. That seems to be the feeling of many of the attendees here at this year's general managers meetings, particularly regarding the relief market, which seems to feature a much deeper pool of options than last season. Of course, as one industry-type pointed out yesterday, that also means more teams will look for relievers. But not every team that needs relievers has the wherewithal to add them via free agency. And for a big-market team like the Phillies, that could mean they will be able to land a quality bullpen pitcher at a modest price once the biggest-dollar players leave the board. At the moment, Mets lefties Hisanori Takahashi and Pedro Feliciano are two candidates who would fit the Phillies' needs. But Amaro said yesterday he did not consider any free-agent deals to be imminent.

At least part of Amaro's time here has been spent evaluating the trade market. Most years, general managers are joined by assistant GMs and other front-office personnel. This year, though, they traveled alone, leading to a more intimate setting in which to exchange ideas.

"It's fantastic dialogue here," Amaro said. "Very, very open. Candid. It's good. It's a little bit more informal. We get together in the evening and spend more exclusive time with each other. Not to slight our assistants or the people who work with us, because we continue to have them advise us as we talk about things, but I think, just geographically, it puts us in a place where we have more opportunity to have dialogue. There have been a lot of interesting ideas thrown around."

Amaro did not detail those ideas, but if the Phillies end up pulling off a trade before the regular season, there is a decent chance it will involve a hitter who could help offset the potential loss of free-agent rightfielder Jayson Werth. Amaro met with superagent Scott Boras on Tuesday, but declined to comment on the meeting, or whether the conversation even touched on Werth.

"I've talked to Scott Boras," Amaro said. "He's got a whole slew of free agents, so we've touched base."

The Phillies have downplayed their urgency to find a replacement from outside the organization in the seemingly likely event Werth signs elsewhere. With top prospect Domonic Brown and the lefty/righty reserve tandem of Ben Francisco and Ross Gload, they have internal options. But you can bet they will explore all other options, given the difficulty in replacing Werth's all-around game, offensively and defensively.

One tidbit published by ESPN yesterday had the Phillies doing "groundwork" on White Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin. Quentin has hit at least 21 home runs in each of his last three seasons and is a solid contact hitter, given his power (he struck out 83 times in 453 at-bats last season, hitting .243 with a .342 on-base percentage). But his career batting splits suggest he wouldn't do much to fix the Phillies' vulnerability against lefthanded pitching: Although Quentin bats righthanded, he has performed far worse in his career against lefties (.212 batting average and .773 on-base plus slugging percentage) than righties (.265 and .857, respectively). He has also battled injuries.

In any case, the Phillies' true offseason intentions have yet to be revealed. Boras, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, has suggested in interviews that the Phillies could afford a dramatic increase in payroll, despite the fact that they already are guaranteed to have one of the highest in baseball next season.

Amaro laughed when informed of Boras' recent comments suggesting that the Phillies could afford a $200 million payroll. At the moment, Amaro can't even envision a day when they would eclipse the luxury-tax threshold of $178 million.

"I don't think we'd go over, but who knows," said Amaro, who has at least $138 million committed to 17 players next season. "I would hope not. Ever. I just don't know if we can generate enough revenue to get there. I don't know if we are physically able to, as an organization, generate that kind of revenue. I mean, we're maxed out as far as our ability to put people in the ballpark. What were we, at 103 percent capacity this year? Just silly numbers. That's not going to go up very much. And even though the ticket [price] numbers went up very, very modestly, I don't know how much that accounts for how much our payroll seems to be continuing to increase."

Local lefty signs

The Phillies reached an agreement on a minor league deal with lefty Dan Meyer, a Kingsway High (N.J.) product who had a solid 2009 campaign for the Marlins before spending most of last season in the minors. Meyer, 29, pitched in 71 games in 2009, posting a 3.09 ERA, 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings, 3.2 walks per nine and 1.1 homers per nine. He battled a calf injury early last season, but recovered to pitch well at Triple A New Orleans, where he had a 3.38 ERA, 6.1 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in 32 appearances.

Meyer will participate in big-league spring training, where he will attempt to earn a spot in the bullpen, which continues to seek reinforcements this offseason.

Asked whether Meyer had a chance to earn a spot on the active roster, assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said, "If he goes back to performing the way he did in '09, absolutely."

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the signing "does not preclude" the Phillies' adding a lefty in a major league deal. *

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