Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. gets cagey as outfield pool shrinks

Colorado outfielder Dexter Fowler could be available via trade with the pitching-hungry Rockies.
Colorado outfielder Dexter Fowler could be available via trade with the pitching-hungry Rockies. (      ALAN DIAZ / AP)
Posted: December 05, 2012

NASHVILLE - Ruben Amaro Jr. slipped into a sixth-floor suite at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel that doubles as the Phillies' headquarters this week and insisted there was no rush. Less than an hour earlier, Angel Pagan had agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with San Francisco, and another Phillies outfield target was eliminated.

"We move on," Amaro said.

On the first day of baseball's winter meetings, the general manager said he still prefers to add a centerfielder via free agency and not trade. That pool has shrunk to Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino. The Phillies have balked at Bourn's price and are not eager for a reunion with Victorino.

So now what?

"We didn't really have a Plan A," Amaro said. "We had, like, 10 Plan B's because, to be frank with you, I just didn't think that the marketplace was all that strong in the beginning. There was not a comparable [player] to [closer Jonathan] Papelbon out there. There really wasn't. There were some good players out there, and there still are some good players out there, but I don't know there's a difference-maker. Maybe one."

Amaro smirked. He was talking about Josh Hamilton, the slugging former MVP, without mentioning him by name.

Are the Phillies in on said "difference-maker?"

"Come on," Amaro said. "Next question."

The exchange was telling.

When asked if he had met with Hamilton, who is believed to be in the Nashville area this week, Amaro said, "No. But I wouldn't tell you if I did." When asked if he had met with Hamilton's agent, Michael Moye, Amaro again said, "No. But I wouldn't tell you if I did."

Hamilton is believed to be seeking at least a five-year deal. His former team, the Texas Rangers, expects a final shot at Hamilton even if he goes shopping elsewhere.

The 31-year-old outfielder carries great risk, of course. His history of drug and alcohol abuse is long documented. ESPN.com reported the Phillies are "wary" of those problems. Hamilton would not solve the center-field conundrum, either - he rated as one of the worst defenders in 2012 and is probably better at a corner spot.

But chatter at these winter meetings has pegged the Phillies as possible suitors because of Amaro's willingness (and necessity) to make a splash. Moye, about as private as player agents come, would make for an ideal quiet negotiating partner.

An idea that was ridiculous a month ago is less so while other options sign elsewhere. Even with Pagan and B.J. Upton gone, there are options. Amaro could pursue a corner outfielder such as Nick Swisher, Ryan Ludwick or Cody Ross. He could trade for Colorado's Dexter Fowler. The Rockies, FOXSports.com reported, are looking for young pitching. That is a strength of the Phillies organization.

Fowler turns 27 in March and hit .300 in 2012 with a career-high .863 OPS. But those numbers could be inflated by Coors Field, where Fowler posted a .984 OPS compared to .720 on the road. His career splits mirror that trend.

With the center-field market thinning, Amaro could wait for prices to drop. "There are only so many chairs to sit in," he said.

That would take serious patience from a fan base.

"I hope we'll make them a little less anxious come April 1," Amaro said. "They're not nearly as anxious as I am."


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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