Fact and fiction in baseball offseason

Amaro
Amaro
Posted: November 15, 2013

ORLANDO, Fla. - A large portion of every baseball offseason is spent separating facts from fiction.

The ever-present rumor mill is impossible to escape in the era of a social media that functions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Outrageous rumors often gain enough traction to appear in the mainstream media. Sometimes those rumors turn out to be true, too.

Yes, the Phillies gave Marlon Byrd, who made $700,000 last season, a guaranteed $16 million, much to the surprise of just about everyone at Orlando's J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes this week.

Yesterday's rumor du jour came courtesy of a late-night report on Tuesday, from Fox-29, that the Phillies were in serious talks to acquire Toronto slugger Jose Bautista with All-Star Domonic Brown as the key part of the trade bait. In the 12 hours that followed, just about every recognizable national baseball reporter swatted it away emphatically.

There was one man in Orlando, however, who wore a serious face when presented with the rumored Bautista-Brown swap.

"For Domonic Brown and who else?" asked J.P. Ricciardi, a special assistant in the Mets' front office.

Ricciardi is the former Blue Jays general manager who dealt with the Phillies tirelessly 4 1/2 years ago in the first round of Roy Halladay trade talks. The trade didn't happen because Toronto wanted Brown and the Phillies were unwilling to part with the then-untouchable outfield prospect.

The brief history lesson isn't brought up to recall the Blue Jays' history of pining for Brown as much as to remind everyone that lots of dialogue that takes place among baseball officials eventually leads to a road to nowhere.

The Byrd-Brown-Bautista talk that took over a decent chunk of the last 2 days in Orlando was also a reminder that the Phillies' outfield was clearly a weakness in 2013. And general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was and is focused on addressing it before 2014.

Subtracting a young All-Star from that outfield mix would seem to be counterproductive in the grand scheme of keeping a winning product on the field for both today and tomorrow.

"Everyone is looking for the same thing," Amaro said yesterday, "and that's young, controllable players. So there's no reason for us to be moving any of them."

Controllable, of course, means years away from free agency and under contract at a team-friendly price. With a roster littered with guys on the other spectrum - the Phils have a half-dozen players over 30 who will make $11 million or more in 2014 - such controllable players are all the more important.

The Phillies have four players who will earn $15 million or more next season.

"It strikes to your flexibility when you have too many of those," Amaro said. "You want to try to stay as flexible as you can be. It's not about spending but about getting the right people and pieces."

Although the Phils have a controllable yet mostly inexperienced option in Darin Ruf, Amaro felt more comfortable allotting $8 million in the each of the next 2 years for Byrd instead. Amaro knew an upgrade (or two) was needed in the outfield, and so he chose a player with a better resume and steeper price tag, although probably not anywhere near as steep as some of the other outfielders on the free-agent market.

"The asking prices are tall, as they always are," Amaro said of the free-agent climate. "We just felt like we had some guys we wanted to target. We don't have unlimited dollars to spend. So we have to make sure we get the best bang for the buck . . . This is a guy we target as someone who could help us and we decided to go get him because I think he was an important part of what we're trying to do, which is improve our club offensively and defensively. So we went out and got him."

Amaro is well aware that the Byrd signing will generate a different kind of buzz in Philly then, say, the Cliff Lee signing three winters ago. But he and his team are at a different time and place.

A great deal of money has already been spent. And after back-to-back underachieving seasons, both the team and its general manager have to get things right this winter.

"Listen, I have to be cognizant of what the fans think - but we have to do what we can to improve the club, and this move I believe will improve our club," said Amaro, who realizes his own job could very well be at stake in the next 10 months. "I don't do my job because of job security. My job is to try to put us back in contention with the players and personnel that we think are the right guys to do it with.

"I'm not worried about my job. I'm worried about my team. That's the bottom line. I believe in the players we have; we have a great group of players. We had a terrible year last year. But I think we're a much better club than we played last year, it's as simple as that. We do have to try to continue to improve."


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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