INDIANAPOLIS - Last year, the Phillies' offseason essentially began at baseball's annual winter meetings, where after a reported attempt to trade for Cubs utilityman Mark DeRosa, Ruben Amaro Jr. and his new front office turned their attention toward acquiring free-agent veteran Raul Ibanez to replace Pat Burrell in leftfield.
From there, the dominoes began to fall. The Phillies set their sights on righthander Chan Ho Park to bolster the bullpen while hammering out the final details of a 2-year, $13 million contract extension with veteran lefthander Jamie Moyer.
This year, however, the focus at the winter meetings - which begin today and run through Thursday - is much more narrow. Already in the fold are veteran infielder Placido Polanco, who signed a 3-year, $18 million contract to replace Pedro Feliz at third, Brian Schneider to back up Carlos Ruiz, and Juan Castro to replace Eric Bruntlett as the seldom-used utilityman.
Here are five issues the Phillies will be dealing with at the winter meetings:
Looking for relief
Over the past couple of years, the Phillies have locked up Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero to multiyear deals in an attempt to provide some long-term stability for the back end of the bullpen. But Lidge is coming off a season in which he blew 11 saves - and arthroscopic elbow surgery - and Romero could miss a month or more while recovering from elbow surgeries. So Tigers righthander Brandon Lyon, who a In Tigers righthander Brandon Lyon, who a source said has emerged as a top Phillies target, they might have both. While Lyon is not considered a candidate to close anywhere, he did save 26 games for Arizona in 2008. He also pitched extensively in multiple-innings situations for the Tigers this past year.
If the Phillies are unable to reach a deal with Park for a contract extension, Lyon could be a viable alternative. But the relief market is always the trickiest to forecast, and several teams figure to be shopping pitchers at the winter meetings.
Amaro has indicated that this is last on his list of priorities. While another offensive option on the bench would be ideal, the Phillies feel they have some choices to fill the final spot on the bench - including recently signed minor league free agent DeWayne Wise and prospect John Mayberry Jr. But don't rule out a move here.
some starting depth
Jamie Moyer's recent health problems - he had surgery last month to remove a collection of blood in his surgically repaired groin/lower abdomen and will have surgery next month to repair the meniscus in his left knee - underscore the need to add another option to compete for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. The Phillies feel former rotation member Kyle Kendrick, who impressed the team in spot duty late last season, will compete seriously for the job. But they certainly would be more comfortable with another experienced starter who might be able to compete for the job. While the Phillies say they have not ruled out veteran righthander Pedro Martinez, a return is unlikely.
One big benefit of the meetings will be the opportunity for members of the Phillies organization who rarely see each other face-to-face to meet. Much discussion obviously will be paid to the farm system, which was recently rated the fourth-strongest in baseball by Baseball America. Might Kyle Drabek be ready to join the rotation in the second half of the season? Might lefties Sergio Escalona and Antonio Bastardo compete for spots in the bullpen? How have Mayberry and fellow outfield prospect Michael Taylor looked in the Mexican League?
Rule 5 draft
Shane Victorino is the most well-known of the Phillies' Rule 5 picks over the years. While more often than not the result of the annual draft is someone like Robert Mosebach, who spent all of spring training with the team before being returned to the Angels, it is always interesting to see who the Phillies believe is worth taking a flyer on. The Rule 5 draft will be held Thursday morning, signaling the end to this year's meetings.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.