Since taking over the job from Pat Gillick five years ago, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has fancied himself as a proactive and aggressive executive who enjoyed making headlines in acquiring big names for the Philadelphia Phillies.
As the Phillies attempt to bounce back from two years outside the playoffs by contending again in 2014, Amaro appears to be taking a different route assembling the 2014 roster.
In addition to re-signing catcher Carlos Ruiz, Amaro has signed a pair of lower-level free agents, outfielder Marlon Byrd and right-hander Roberto Hernandez, to round out the starting lineup and five-man rotation. And he traded for Brad Lincoln in an effort to add a veteran arm to the bullpen.
Although Amaro didn't rule out more moves in the near future, he also didn't sound like a GM keen on adding any big names and big salaries to bolster either the lineup or the pitching staff. The Phillies have not been linked to the likes of Shin Soo Choo or Ubaldo Jimenez this offseason.
"Some of the big names, for us, are probably more names than they are talent," Amaro said of the free agent market in general. "I would imagine with the prices that are out there, and what they're seeking, I don't think it matches up with the level of talent -- that's my take on it. Someone's going to pay, I'm sure. Someone is going to get the players. We're just not targeting those because we don't think it's the right bang for the buck."
For the most part, the Phillies have already spent big dollars and big-ticket items.
They signed the biggest fish on the free agent market three years ago (Cliff Lee, five years, $120 million), gave Jonathan Papelbon the richest contract for a reliever in baseball history two years ago (four years, $50 million) and kept Cole Hamels off the free agent market last year with a late-season extension that is the richest contract in franchise history (six years, $144 million). The trio of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins also account for a combined $51 million of the 2014 payroll.
Although the Phillies still have some flexibility (they were around $30 million under the $189 million luxury tax threshold after signing Hernandez), they don't sound like a team eager to add any more hefty contracts prior to Opening Day.
"I like going for the home run a lot," Amaro said. "It may be best for us to try to maintain some flexibility and add depth. There is a fine line. Should we try to hit a home run or hit a couple of doubles?"
--C Lou Marson, non-tendered by the Indians on Dec. 2, signed a minor league deal with the Phillies on Dec. 18. Marson, 27, missed virtually all of the 2013 season due to a strained right shoulder. He went 0-for-3 in three games.
--RHP Roberto Hernandez finalized a one-year, $4.5 contract with the Phillies on Dec. 18. The 33-year-old veteran, who previously pitched under the name Fausto Carmona during his career, was 6-13 with a 4.89 ERA in 32 games (24 starts) with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. Hernandez ranked seven in baseball last season with a 1.24 groundball-to-flyball ratio. He joins a rotation with LHP Cole Hamels, LHP Cliff Lee, RHP Kyle Kendrick and Cuban rookie RHP Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, with second-year RHP Jonathan Pettibone in the mix, too.
--LF Domonic Brown has been the subject of trade rumors for most of his professional career, beginning when the Toronto Blue Jays sought him in a package for Roy Halladay back in 2009. The Phillies were able to acquire Halladay without giving up Brown back then, but that hasn't stopped the All-Star outfielder's name from popping up in new rumors.
Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said his goal is to add players like Brown -- young, productive and under club control -- and not subtract them. But such players also need to filter out the white noise. "You have to have thick skin, unfortunately," Amaro said. "Everyone has been there. If you're a good, young player, it's going to happen. With Bobby Abreu it happened. We sat him down and said, 'We're not trading you.'"
--1B Ryan Howard reportedly slimmed down considerably since the regular season ended. Howard was busy working out in Florida in preparation for what he hopes is his first healthy, full season in three years. Howard underwent knee and Achilles surgeries the past two years, and the rehab that followed limited the cardio work he was able to do in the winter.
"He's lost some weight, but he seems more fit," GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "A lot of people talk about his weight; he was pretty heavy when he hit 58 home runs. He was no small human. It's really about him being healthy, his body."
--RHP Kevin Munson was selected by the Phillies from the Arizona Diamondbacks with the fourth pick in the Rule 5 draft. Munson is a 24-year-old reliever with "a power arm," according to Phillies scouting director Mike Ondo. "A two-pitch guy -- big fastball and hard slider. He's a guy that can create some depth in our bullpen. Get him in the mix. In the past he's been capable of giving you a two-inning outing. He's also a guy that can come in with that stuff and get a strikeout."
Munson was 2-4 with a 4.12 ERA and 14 saves in 53 games between Triple-A Reno and Double-A Mobile striking out 66 while walking 22 in 54 2/3 innings.
--RHP Roy Halladay retired Dec. 9 after winning 203 games and two Cy Young Awards in a Hall of Fame-worthy, 16-year career. Halladay spent the last four seasons of his career with the Phillies, where he won an NL Cy Young Award, threw a perfect game and pitched a postseason no-hitter in 2010, his first season with the team. Halladay filed for free agency for the first time in his career two months ago, but he opted for retirement after battling back and shoulder issues the past two years.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Some of the big names, for us, are probably more names than they are talent. I would imagine with the prices that are out there, and what they're seeking, I don't think it matches up with the level of talent -- that's my take on it." -- GM Ruben Amaro Jr., on the remaining free agents.
After being the cream of the National League East crop for five years and being a consistent contender from 2003 onward, the Phillies slipped back even further in 2013 and suffered their first losing season since 2002 with a 73-89 record a fourth place finish in the National League East.
BIGGEST NEEDS: The Phillies probably still need another starting pitcher after adding RHP Roberto Hernandez, who was signed to round out the rotation. They have little depth in the majors and upper levels of the minor leagues. Additionally, they would like to add more outfield depth, particularly in center field, where the backups behind Ben Revere leave a lot to be desired.
ARRIVALS: OF Marlon Byrd (free agent from Pirates), RHP Brad Lincoln (trade with Blue Jays), C Wil Nieves (free agent from Diamondbacks), RHP Roberto Hernandez (free agent from Rays), RHP Kevin Munson (Rule 5 draft pick from Diamondbacks)
DEPARTURES: C Erik Kratz (traded to Blue Jays), RHP Roy Halladay (retired)
FREE AGENTS: RHP Zach Miner, LHP John Lannan
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Kyle Kendrick, LHP Antonio Bastardo, OF John Mayberry Jr., OF Ben Revere
All were tendered contracts, although Mayberry's hold on roster spot is tenuous as the Phillies try to upgrade their outfield bench. The most interesting name on the list could be Bastardo, who is coming off a 50-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal.
IN LIMBO: RHP Jonathan Papelbon, OF Ben Revere
The Phillies would like someone to take Papelbon's salary off their hands after the closer's inconsistent season. Revere is arbitration-eligible and coming off an injury, but he could be attractive to some teams looking for a top of the lineup piece.
--RHP Jonathan Pettibone (right shoulder strain) last pitched in the majors in late July.
--OF Ben Revere (right ankle surgery in July 2013) had two screws placed in his foot. In September, he played in instructional league games.
--1B Ryan Howard (left knee surgery in July 2013) had a torn meniscus repaired. He began a hitting and fielding program Aug. 22 in Clearwater, Fla., and spent time with the club on the final weekend of the season in Atlanta.
--LHP Jeremy Horst (left elbow sprain) last pitched in the majors in mid-June. He had a setback in the minors in mid-July.
--RHP Mike Adams (right shoulder surgery in July 2013) had three tears repaired. He is expected to miss part of the 2014 season.
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