Amaro's priority: finding a catcher

Catcher Carlos Ruiz is a free agent.
Catcher Carlos Ruiz is a free agent. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: November 13, 2013

ORLANDO, Fla. - Ruben Amaro Jr. whisked through the lobby of the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes wearing a Bluetooth earpiece. He dropped his bag upstairs, shook some hands, and stopped a conversation when Marlins general manager Dan Jennings approached.

"We'll talk later," Amaro said to him.

That is Amaro's dream, although an acquisition of Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton is improbable. Even Amaro is willing to admit it. His immediate priority is the procurement of a starting catcher, and he downplayed the notion of being in a poor bargaining position. He would like to sign a catcher before November ends.

The Phillies want to re-sign Carlos Ruiz. Amaro has said that on many occasions and repeated it Monday as the annual general manager meetings commenced.

Ruiz, too, prefers the Phillies. Both sides have engaged in negotiations but refuse to disclose the impediments to a reunion.

Ruiz, who will turn 35 in January, is believed to be seeking a three-year contract with a significant raise from the $5 million he made in 2013. The Phillies can offer a two-year deal with a possible vesting option.

"We're still chatting," Amaro said.

Amaro, in a bit of posturing, said he was not concerned with the market economics. The top two available catchers - Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia - will demand at least four years and huge salaries. Amaro indicated he has pursued backup plans to Ruiz, although neither McCann nor Saltalamacchia is believed to be an option.

"We have a time limit," Amaro said. "There are other targets. We've made inquiries about a lot of different guys. We're on the board in a variety of areas."

Amaro thinks there are "conceivably" six or seven catchers he could employ. He questioned the notion that the catching market had a lot of demand with little supply. The Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, and Rockies reportedly are seeking a starting catcher. The Minnesota Twins joined the market Monday when they announced that Joe Mauer would move to first base.

"There's not as many seats available as people think," Amaro said. "A lot of people have catchers."

If the Phillies balk at Ruiz's price tag, they could pursue a lesser catcher and upgrade another position. John Buck started 101 games last season but managed just a .592 OPS after a torrid April. Dioner Navarro was productive at the plate but started a mere 53 games. Jose Molina is known as a defensive savant without any offense. He started a career-high 87 games for Tampa Bay last season.

Those players have flaws, as does Ruiz. Common sense says a deal with the Phils' longtime catcher will happen. Given Amaro's public face, he is not comfortable with Ruiz's demands. The general manager's patience could be tested.

Search continues

Amaro did not sound particularly enthused about his lengthy quest for a pitching coach.

"We're still in the process," he said. The GM said he made "a couple of offers" that were rejected.

One, according to a source, was to Atlanta pitching coach Roger McDowell. The Phillies were convinced he would jump until the Braves increased his salary. Pirates special assistant Jim Benedict interviewed but removed his name from consideration.

Greg Maddux, a former teammate of Ryne Sandberg, did not want to leave his front-office job with Texas. The Phillies also have spoken to, among others, Jeff Pico, an Arizona Diamondbacks minor-league roving instructor and former Cubs teammate of Sandberg.

Internal candidates Rod Nichols and Ray Burris were interviewed. The hire is likely to come from the outside. This whole process would not have happened had the Phillies thought Nichols, the team's bullpen coach and former triple-A pitching coach, was the right man. (Nichols still could return as bullpen coach.)

"We have candidates," Amaro said, "but we're still looking through some other possible ones."


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