The Phillies are set to arrive in spring training next week without making another addition after an off-season in which their payroll is expected to rise more than $30 million - a bigger jump than any other team in baseball, according to figures compiled by ESPN.
The Phillies' payroll came in around $98 million in 2008, and looks to open 2009 "north of $130 million," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. Most of that was spent keeping the World Series champions together - with the notable exception of Raul Ibanez taking the place of Pat Burrell. And with Ryan Howard's salary still unsettled, that number could keep rising.
The Phillies have inquired about almost every righthanded bat on the market, including Rich Aurilia, Mark Grudzielanek, and Moises Alou (they offered a contract to Ty Wigginton, who instead signed earlier this week with Baltimore). Even Andruw Jones has merited a tepid look.
Their primary interest continues to be Nomar Garciaparra, but his status may not be resolved for several weeks. Because the Phillies are eyeing a veteran in this role who might not need a ton of spring training time to be ready, Amaro said, it's possible for this to be a late addition.
"When you talk about a team's off-season, you can't really judge it until you go north," Amaro said. "We're on a constant mission to try to improve."
The Phillies have also looked at several names for bullpen help, given that J.C. Romero will start the season on a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's substance-abuse policy. But Amaro said the team isn't in position to offer big years and money, and seeking a player willing to accept a limited role for what Amaro termed a "modest" contract could limit their options.
"It's very likely we'll go into spring training with the club we have now," Amaro said.
While Amaro said he is still casting around for more depth, Howard's imminent arbitration hearing is plainly issue number one.
"The elephant in the middle of the room is the Ryan Howard situation," Amaro said. "We'll continue to work to get something done with him. We're always optimistic that we can get things done. Both sides are open-minded, and both sides are working at it."
Howard and his agent, Casey Close, have asked for $18 million. The Phillies have countered with $14 million. Amaro said Howard's salary wouldn't prevent a move the team wanted to make, but it may be an issue the Phillies would need to settle before moving on to other additions.
"Look, $4 million is $4 million," Amaro said. "That's not to say it would preclude us from adding on at the right time. We've always had the flexibility to add some things. But it doesn't take an economics major to see that $4 million makes a difference."
Talks may be heating up in an effort to avoid the arbitration hearing. Asked when was the last time he talked with Howard, Amaro laughed and said: "Um . . . I'm going to keep that confidential." Close did not return a phone call placed to his office yesterday.
Howard, at least, looks to arrive in spring training in better shape this year. He's been working out regularly this off-season, including more work with Phillies coach Sam Perlozzo on defensive drills. Howard made 19 errors last season.