Amaro OK with Phillies current roster, but leaves room for improvement

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Michael Young, the Phillies' new third baseman, meets the media for the first time since his trade from Texas.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Michael Young, the Phillies' new third baseman, meets the media for the first time since his trade from Texas.
Posted: December 20, 2012

THE BULK of the work is finished, with a third baseman (Michael Young), a centerfielder (Ben Revere), a setup man (Mike Adams) and a fifth starter (John Lannan) all outfitted in Phillies red before Christmas.

But Ruben Amaro Jr. isn't finished with his offseason shopping, even if he did allow the possibility of going to spring training in 2 months with the current roster.

"It's very possible that we have the answers internally," Amaro said of what would appear to be a glaring need for a reliable, productive, veteran bat for the outfield. "I feel comfortable with the way our club is today. But if there's a way to improve it, and not just marginally, we'll try to do that."

Amaro, of course, could have been using his first press gathering since the winter meetings as an avenue for posturing.

If the remaining free agents and trade options either aren't all that appealing or the prices aren't to his liking, Amaro would be smart to say he is content with his current crop of outfielders. It's negotiation through lip service.

But if agents and opposing general managers call Amaro on his bluff, the Phillies would open the 2013 season with Revere in center, some combination of righthanded hitters Darin Ruf and John Mayberry Jr. and lefthanded hitters Domonic Brown and Laynce Nix in left and right.

"As far as the outfield situation is concerned, we're still trolling through the possibility of adding another piece there," Amaro said on Tuesday, after a news conference to introduce Young to Philadelphia. "And we're also considering the possibility with a double platoon. That's a possibility as well."

A possibility, sure. But it's probably not realistic, considering the front office has learned the lesson of putting too much faith on unproven corner outfielders in the last two seasons; last season in leftfield, two seasons ago in right.

Even as Amaro continued to consider the platoon possibility, he rattled off a string of "whethers" and "ifs" that added up to a whole heap of question marks and uncertainty. Two of those outfielders, Brown and Ruf, are unproven; the other two are acceptable reserve players but not starters.

"A lot of it depends on how we feel about that combination of players in the corners," Amaro said. "Whether Darin Ruf can step up and be an everyday player, whether Domonic Brown can be an everyday player, if John Mayberry can be an everyday player. Laynce Nix as well. This combination of players can constitute some type of platoon situation.

"I think we have talent there. How we're going to maximize that talent, I'm not sure yet. Again, if we have to go with those guys and we feel like the other alternatives aren't that much better than what we have right now, there's no reason for us to go out and do things that don't make sense for us. That said, if there's something that we feel can help us, we're certainly keeping our eyes and mind open to explore it."

Unless Amaro hits the bargain bin again and considers another low-risk, high-reward-type (Lance Berkman? Raul Ibanez?), the list of potential difference-making outfielders on the free-agent market has dwindled to Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Cody Ross. The Phils don't appear to have interest in the first two; they were linked to Ross in a FoxSports.com report over the weekend, but in a market in which Shane Victorino got a guaranteed $39 million for 3 years, Ross could be too expensive for their tastes, too.

If the Phils did decide to make a stealth pursuit of Swisher, who would seem to fit as a switch-hitting rightfielder with power and plate discipline, it would cost more than free-agent dollars. As a player who was extended (and declined) a qualifying offer, Swisher would cost his new team its first-round pick.

The Phillies have the 16th overall pick this June, their highest pick since they selected fourth in 2001 and took righthander Gavin Floyd.

The Phils forfeited first-round picks in three of the last 4 years, when they signed Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee and Ibanez. The one year they retained their first-round pick, in 2010, the Phillies chose lefthanded pitcher Jesse Biddle, who was recently tabbed by Baseball America as the organization's top prospect.

Amaro was asked specifically whether he'd be reluctant to forfeit a first-round pick for a guy such as Swisher.

"If we think it's the right guy to sign, we'll sign him," Amaro said. "I mean, a lot of it depends. First-round picks are important, but, at the same time, if we feel like short term, long term we should go that route . . . we're still trying to figure it out."

Another factor is payroll. After signing Lannan ($2.5 million) and Adams ($6 million) for 2013, the Phils have less than $9 million to spend if they hope to stay under the $178 million luxury-tax threshold. But Amaro hasn't been told he must avoid going over that number.

Since the threshold rises to $189 million in 2014, the Phils could consider going above it this season.

"I haven't been given any ultimatums as far as [the luxury tax] is concerned, but there is a limit to where we want to be right now," Amaro said. "I also think it's important to give ourselves a little flexibility for the trade deadline in case we want to do some things there, too. Not just dollarwise, but personnelwise, too. We're looking at all possibilities to improve the club, and if we can do it and we think it's the right thing to do, we'll move on it."


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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