Will Phils find answers at GM meetings?

Posted: November 14, 2011

MILWAUKEE - In this new age of smart phones and wireless-on-the-go, the significance of face-to-face interaction in baseball's annual offseason swap meet has dropped dramatically.

The annual meeting of the sport's general managers, which begins today and runs for 2 days, is not exactly a hotbed of hot-stove activity. For the most part, the meeting consists solely of the GMs themselves - last year, the commissioner's office encouraged clubs to pare down their delegations in order to better focus the logistical discussions that were to take place, as well as to limit the number of loose lips capable of spreading the type of scuttle that us regular folks feast upon.

Still, it is worth mentioning that 4 years ago the Phillies finalized their trade for then-Houston closer Brad Lidge at the GM meetings, a move that proved to be the first of a series of high-profile acquisitions over the next four seasons. Back then, it was young centerfielder Michael Bourn leaving the Phillies' fertile farm system. He proved to be the first in a parade of well-regarded prospects dispatched to various organizations in return for veteran talent. Three of the Blue Jays' top prospects - catcher Travis D'Aarnaud, centerfielder Anthony Gose and righthander Kyle Drabek - are ex-Phillies farmhands. Same goes for three of the Astros' most promising minor leaguers: righthander Jarred Cosart, first baseman Jonathon Singleton and outfielder Domingo Santana.

The Indians saw a strong start to 2011 by former Phillies prospect Carlos Carrasco scuttled by Tommy John surgery, but infielder Jason Donald had a solid offensive season as a jack-of-all-trades utility man.

Even if Ruben Amaro Jr. has identified a high-end trade target, he will have difficulty making that acquisition without moving talent off his major league roster. Amaro has built a reputation as one of the more aggressive deal-makers in the game, pursuing his targets with little regard for the marketplace or the opinions of pundits and fellow personnel men. Just last week, he put the finishing touches on a still-unofficial 4-year, $50 million deal for ex-Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, doling out richest contract ever for a reliever while raising concerns about how he intends to address the various questions that still face him this offseason.

Among those questions:

1) WHO'S ON THIRD?

Starting a surgically repaired Placido Polanco at third base for the second straight season is certainly an option. The guy did win a much-deserved Gold Glove this year. But if Polanco is penciled in as the everyday option at the hot corner, the Phillies would be wise to find a backup who carries a bigger bat than light-hitting utility men Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez. Corner infielder/outfielder Michael Cuddyer visited with the team last week, but it remains to be seen what kind of money the soon-to-be 33-year-old desires. The problem is, most players who are capable infielders and capable hitters can find a starting job somewhere. Which is why the answer might be to sign or trade for an everyday option that allows the Phillies to shift Polanco into a super-utility role. The options are slim. Aramis Ramirez would fill a lot of needs at the plate, but he is not a great defensive player and is not regarded as a strong baserunner. Cuddyer can play third, but there is a reason that the Twins used him mostly in the outfield and at first base.

2) EXTENSIONS

Both Cole Hamels and Hunter Pence could make salaries in the tens of millions through arbitration next season. Both are candidates for long-term deals, with Hamels scheduled to become a free agent after 2012. Both are also recovering from surgery. Whatever happens, both will occupy a significant chunk of the payroll next year (think in the neighborhood of $10 million for Pence and $15 million for Hamels).

3) LEFTFIELD

This would be Cuddyer's likely position. But again, there is no guarantee the lifelong Twin ends up signing in Philadelphia. The Phillies could use another lefthanded bat, particularly with John Mayberry Jr. capable of playing left and first base. Jason Kubel, another Twin, is one of the bigger names available, but he is not the type of hitter who reflects the approach the Phillies are looking for. There are several candidates with good upside who could be signed at a bargain: David DeJesus and Grady Sizemore are two. But Sizemore has huge questions about his health, and DeJesus is coming off a disappointing season in Oakland.

4) BULLPEN

The Phillies will not upgrade their depth with the signing of Papelbon, who essentially replaces Ryan Madson at the back end of the bullpen. They are still thin on veteran arms to complement young setup men Antonio Bastardo, a lefthander, and righthander Michael Stutes. The Phillies have a lot of upside at Triple A, and if Jose Contreras recovers successfully from elbow surgery, they could have enough personnel to make it work. But another veteran arm would certainly make Charlie Manuel feel a lot more confident pulling one of his elite starters in a tight game.

5) BENCH

The Phillies carried two utility players throughout last season. While Martinez and Valdez provide good defense, they do not inspire enough confidence at the plate for Manuel to rest Polanco or Chaes Utley with any regularity. The Phillies also need a back-up catcher to replace Brian Schneider.

6) SHORTSTOP

Last, but certainly not least, is the uncertain situation at shortstop. The Phillies maintain they want to retain Jimmy Rollins. It is hard to imagine any team giving Rollins the 5-year deal he suggested in public comments at the end of the season. But the Phillies need to either make a strong play to retain their longest-tenured player, or they need to target one of the few options available on the market. The only option that represents an offensive upgrade is Jose Reyes, but don't expect the Phillies to involve themselves in the bidding for the talented but oft-injured Mets star.


For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/ HighCheese. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ HighCheese.David Murphy

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