LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There was a funny scene in the Phillies’ main meeting room Tuesday afternoon.
Reporters had just been invited in for the daily briefing with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
The flat-screen TV on the wall was tuned to a baseball show. Cliff Lee’s picture flashed across the screen.
The image of Lee caught Amaro’s eye.
“Oh!” he said, his voice full of sarcasm. “We’re trading him now.”
Amaro’s remark drew laughter from the folks in the room and showed that he was aware of the hot rumor on Day 2 of the winter meetings, the one, reported by ESPN, that said the Phillies were willing to listen to offers for Lee and fellow ace Cole Hamels.
“I’ve heard them,” Amaro said. “They’re silly.
“We’re trying to add. I said before, the best way for us to win is with our pitching, particularly at the top of the rotation.”
Several minutes earlier, manager Ryne Sandberg was asked about the rumors.
“I don’t believe they are true,” Sandberg said. “We’re trying to add pitching.”
A smart general manager is always willing to listen to what he could get for his players. You never know when you might get blown away. But listening is not the same thing as trading. Though expectations for the 2014 season are not high, the Phils are still hoping to contend, still hoping to make a run at the postseason, where a 1-2 punch of Hamels and Lee could be dangerous. To trade one of the two pitchers would signal a rebuilding effort and to announce that at this point of the offseason would not help ticket sales.
“We are built to contend,” Amaro said. “That’s our job, to try and win.”
Might there be a time when the Phils transition to a rebuilding effort?
“At some point we may have to do that,” Amaro said. “But not right now we’re not. We’re not there.”
July might be a more realistic time to trade Lee -- if the Phillies are not in contention. But Amaro really thinks this club can contend.
“We’re built to win,” Amaro said. “I like our lineup. I’d like to add some pitching to it.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good lineup as it stands today. If we can improve on it we’ll try. But I like our lineup. We’ve been sitting here and discussing it internally. I like the balance in it. Is it older? Yes, it is. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worse just because it’s older. We just have to get them healthier. If it’s healthy, it’s better than last year, clearly. We have to score more than 610 runs or whatever it was that we scored last year. That was awful. We have to score 700-plus runs to contend. I think the guys that are in the lineup as it stands today can do that.”
The Phils’ 610 runs ranked 13th in the NL in 2013.
Amaro continues to look for starting pitching depth to slot in behind Hamels and Lee.
“If I had to handicap it, I’d say we’d probably go the free-agent route for a pitcher,” he said.
The Phils made offers to Ryan Vogelsong and Scott Feldman earlier this winter, but they signed elsewhere. The Phils don’t seem to be in the hunt for remaining high-priced starters.
-- Jim Salisbury, CSNPhilly.com