INDIANAPOLIS - They insist there is no magic number, no nine-digit figure carved into stone and mounted in the hotel suite where much of the Phillies' decision-making will take place at these winter meetings. But Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. provided a pretty good indication of the club's targeted Opening Day payroll yesterday. And barring circumstances unforeseen, it looks like this:
In your best Dr. Evil voice: $140 million.
"I think we're going to be just fine with our payroll," Amaro told reporters yesterday in the Phillies' baseball operations suite at the Marriott. "I don't think it's going to change much. We have to have our limitations. We're going to be pushing $140 million, and it is what it is. And it's my job to figure out a way to make sure this is a contending team."
A payroll of $140 million - roughly $8 million more than it was on Opening Day last season - leaves the Phillies with some financial flexibility to fill out their roster. They have $113 million guaranteed to 15 players for 2010. Factor in raises for five other players, and that figure likely will swell to around $128 million, which would leave them with roughly $12 million to spend on the five other Opening Day roster spots. Most of that will be spent on pitching. The Phillies would like to add at least one reliever who can pitch in the eighth or ninth innings. While Amaro said he was optimistic that lefthander J.C. Romero and righthander Brad Lidge will be recovered from their elbow surgeries by Opening Day, one or both could miss all or part of April. And even if both are healthy, Lidge's 11 blown saves and 7.21 ERA in 2009 indicate a need for some insurance in the closer's role.
The Phillies also want to add a pitcher who can compete with Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick for the fifth spot in the rotation.
While Amaro said he has had several trade discussions, he indicated the free-agent market was still the club's primary concern.
Of the four bullpen vacancies - assuming they carry their usual seven relievers - three could be filled internally. Amaro said he would like young lefthanders Antonio Bastardo and Sergio Escalona to compete for a roster spot.
The Phillies talked with representatives for arbitration-eligible reliever Chad Durbin yesterday and have until Dec. 12 to offer him a contract. Durbin figures to be in line for at least $2 million in arbitration. Clay Condrey, who made $800,000 this year and pitched well when healthy, also is arbitration-eligible.
Amaro said the team has not decided on offering either arbitration, but said "these are guys we'll probably count on."
The Phillies' top free-agent target remains Chan Ho Park, who earned $2.5 million while establishing himself as their most effective reliever in 2009. But talks with agent Jeff Borris yielded little headway yesterday, according to sources, and the Phillies continue to evaluate other options. The team remains open to re-signing veteran lefthander Scott Eyre, but no deal is imminent.
"[Talks] haven't moved particularly quickly," Amaro said. "I may go sign somebody else because they're waiting around."
More money talk
While Amaro did not rule out trading away one of the five current starters under control for 2010, such a move remains unlikely. Earlier this offseason, he adamantly said Cole Hamels would not be traded. Cliff Lee, who will make $9 million, also is untouchable. J.A. Happ, who made only $400,000 and went 10-4 with a 2.99 ERA as a starter, isn't going anywhere, and Moyer's health and performance issues last season make his $8 million salary impossible to move. Joe Blanton earned $5.475 million last season and could make around $7 million after arbitration. But the Phillies already are in the market for a starter, and Blanton's durability and 4.09 ERA in his year-and-a-half with the team make such a deal unlikely.
"I don't want to mess with our rotation as it stands," Amaro said. "But that doesn't mean I'll make it a hard-and-fast rule."
The Phillies were honored with Baseball America's Organization of the Year Award. *