Questions remain for Phillies and Ruben Amaro

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. signed Michael Young (left) to fill a hole at third base. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. signed Michael Young (left) to fill a hole at third base. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Posted: January 15, 2013

Ruben Amaro Jr. looks at the Phillies and, like you, he doesn't know what to expect in 2013. If this is unsettling just one month before players report for spring training, it is the nature of how things are going to be for a while.

The biggest obstacle for Amaro as he pieced together the plan for the coming season is that there is no way to know whether the core around which the Phillies are constructed still has one more run as a legitimate contender.

That uncertainty manifested itself in many ways over the offseason, but none so obvious as the situation at the corner outfield positions, where Amaro apparently is doing nothing more than hoping at least one major-league regular emerges from a mixed bag containing Domonic Brown, John Mayberry Jr., Darin Ruf, and Laynce Nix.

"We're likely going with what we've got," Amaro said last week, indicating he's not all that thrilled with the idea, either.

Thrilling or not, it is the best course of action for Amaro and the Phillies. If the team is playing well enough by midseason to be in contention for the playoffs, Amaro still will have plenty of time to add to the roster should the outfield situation not hold up its end of the bargain.

For that to be the case, however, the Phillies have to get strong performances from at least three of their starters, and the three-(gray)-headed monster of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard has to carry the offense once again. Carlos Ruiz will return after a 25-game suspension for amphetamine use, and that should help, but not enough to wildly alter the equation already in place.

It would make little sense for Amaro to have overpaid for a long-term commitment to another outfielder if the team finds itself in full-blown rebuilding mode by July. That could easily happen, depending mostly on the ability of Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee to forge comeback seasons, and on Rollins, Utley, and Howard to supply the pop in an offense that won't have very much otherwise.

By standing pat on the corner outfield slots, Amaro is saying he has no idea whether a team that fell to half-mast in 2012 can raise itself again. There's nothing wrong with not knowing, and Amaro isn't going to limit the team's options until he finds out.

"If there is a player that is better who we feel could help us now, we'll utilize our resources to get him," Amaro said. "If there isn't, then we may be better served to hold on and see what we could do during the year."

And, more to the point, whether there is still any reason to do it.

The best outcome for Amaro and the Phillies would be if the veterans perform well and someone wins one of the two uncertain outfield positions, leaving the remaining three players to mix and match for the other spot. Best outcomes are not likely for a team with as many question marks as the Phillies, so the situation by midseason probably will be some combination of encouraging and worrisome.

To this point, Amaro has done a credible job of filling holes on the roster, going mostly after what he calls "low-risk, high-reward" players. Knowing that putting a good glove man in center field was paramount given what will surround him, Amaro traded for Ben Revere. Needing a solid regular at third base, he traded for Michael Young. Needing a setup man to stabilize the bullpen, he opened the team's wallet for Mike Adams. Needing a bottom-of-the-rotation starter to replace Vance Worley, he signed lefthander John Lannan.

There's plenty of risk being taken with that list, of course. Young - who, at 36, isn't - played just two seasons as a regular third baseman and has started only 64 games there while appearing in 315 games the last two seasons. (Owing mostly to the arrival of Adrian Beltre in Texas.) Young better catch the ball, because he isn't going to wow anyone with power at the plate, having hit just eight home runs last season (in 611 at-bats!) while playing half the games in a park even more homer-friendly than Citizens Bank Park.

Lannan will be slotted behind Kyle Kendrick at the bottom of the Phillies rotation, and there isn't a better option unless you believe in Tyler Cloyd more than the organization does. The opening-day starter for the Nationals in 2009 and 2010, Lannan slipped out of Washington's rotation last season, spent most of the year in the International League, and returned only when Stephen Strasburg was shut down in the final month. Lannan isn't a sure thing, but for one year and $2.5 million, Amaro could get good bang for the buck.

The outfield risk is serious, too, with the Phillies desperately hoping Brown will settle down and earn the regular right-field job. Brown's career has been marked with the asterisk of injury, but when you keep having freakish injuries, after a while they aren't freakish. As for the others, the odds are not great that Ruf can hit major-league pitching consistently right away and play an acceptable left field. It would be nice but, again, that comes under the category of "best outcomes."

Amaro has done what makes sense so far, and he has stayed away from what doesn't, even though that isn't always popular. He stares at the same calendar as you, and wonders the same things as spring training approaches.

Want to know whether the Phillies can put it back together this season? So does the general manager.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

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