Phils' Sandberg eager to solve rotation mystery

Posted: January 29, 2014

THE RUBEN AMARO JR. and Ryne Sandberg Winter Tour came to a conclusion last night at the 110th Philadelphia Sports Writers Association Dinner at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill.

Ryno and Ruben were in Allentown and Lakewood, N.J., last week. They were scheduled to go to Reading, but that was snowed out.

They haven't been to Clearwater, Fla., however, where a good number of their players, including many of their pitchers, already have begun to put in their work for the 2014 season. Sandberg, who is traveling to Florida on Super Bowl Sunday, hasn't even gotten his eyes on a guy who figures to be one of the most important players in camp: Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.

"Not at all," Sandberg said when asked whether he knew anything more about the righthander than he did when the Phillies' season ended 4 months ago.

Sandberg can only hope and pray he'll know something more - something positive - about his International Man of Mystery in the next 2 months. Gonzalez and the rest of the Phillies' pitchers (and catchers) will hold their first workout in 16 short days, and the pitching staff remains the chief concern of the first-year manager.

"We need to really nail down the rotation . . . see who is going to step up," Sandberg said.

If they hope to avoid their second consecutive losing season, the Phillies will need several pitchers to answer that call. Even with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels at the top, the Phillies' rotation had a 5.31 ERA in 66 games after the All-Star break last season.

The only additions to that rotation this winter? Gonzalez, who hasn't pitched competitively in two seasons, and veteran righthander Roberto Hernandez, who doesn't exactly bring a Roy Halladay-like resumé to town.

After Kyle Kendrick, those two pitchers and second-year righthander Jonathan Pettibone are expected to compete for the final two spots in the rotation.

It's been the kind of offseason that would surely make a veteran manager groan under his breath. If Sandberg is disappointed, he is hiding it well.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "We'll get down to spring training and see guys throw the ball and get that figured out. Whether we're done [making additions] or not, that remains to be seen. Something could still be done . . . But we have more depth in the starting pitching than we had in September, which wasn't too good. We'll see how that all pans out."

As for last-minute additions, Sandberg shouldn't hold his breath. Amaro said that, as of last night, he did not have any major league offers out to free agents.

Among the pitchers still looking for work: Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Bronson Arroyo and possibly A.J. Burnett, who has been mulling retirement.

At the winter meetings 7 weeks ago, Amaro said most of the asking prices of the free agents weren't in line with how the Phillies viewed them as talents. This, of course, was back when the market was very player-friendly (former Angels lefthander Jason Vargas got a 4-year, $32 million deal from the Royals) and before it quieted down since the New Year.

And now?

"We've talked to some guys, and I don't know if the expectations have changed," Amaro said. "Maybe a little bit. But still not really in the range we're comfortable with."

Ruben Amaro confirmed that the Phillies have hired Scott Freedman full time to work in the baseball operations department.

Freedman was brought into the organization 2 months ago, from the commissioner's office, on a consultant basis to help the team incorporate analytics into its operations. The Phillies have often been criticized for being slow to catch the advanced-metrics train, made popular in "Moneyball."

Many successful teams, including the world champion Boston Red Sox, have incorporated metrics into their decision-making in recent years. The Red Sox were honored by the Sports Writers Association as the Team of the Year last night.

"We are trying to develop that area, and I think he's a good starting point for us," Amaro said. "He's already had some impact. He's met with [assistant GM for amateur scouting] Marti Wolever, obviously, he's met with our office and discussed some things, how to attack the analytic side of things and where we want to go with it. I'm looking forward to having him on board and working with our guys."

Ruben Amaro acknowledged that centerfield depth remains an area of need, and said an addition would more likely come through a trade than through free agency. John Mayberry Jr. is currently the only capable major league backup on the projected roster. Amaro said new rightfielder Marlon Byrd, a former centerfielder, also could see action in center . . . When asked whether any player was guaranteed a bench job, Ryne Sandberg said slick-fielding Freddy Galvis was: "His ability to play short, second, third and leftfield . . . I think he's a vital piece off the bench" . . . Sandberg said new spring-training guest instructor Roy Halladay will be in on coaching meetings in the morning and will work one-on-one with pitchers about the mental side of the game, among other assignments.


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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