INDIANAPOLIS - The two goals appear contradictory: The Phillies want to improve their pitching staff and avoid increasing their payroll.
Can they satisfy both needs this off-season?
"If I'm smart enough," said general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., sitting in the hotel suite that serves as his front office's headquarters during baseball's winter meetings. The meetings began yesterday and will end Thursday.
The Phils hope to add a late-inning reliever and a starting pitcher, but they insist that their payroll cannot drift north of $140 million. That would seem to place Brandon Lyon out of their range, as the former Arizona closer and Detroit setup man made $4.25 million last season and is seeking a multiyear contract and pay raise commensurate with his strong performance in 2009.
The righthander's agent, Barry Meister, said yesterday that Lyon was most interested in playing for a winning team, and that finding a ninth-inning job was a lower priority. Meister also said that his client was not close to signing with any club. He has had only preliminary contact with the Phillies, and said that about 10 teams have expressed an interest in Lyon.
Because of Lyon's experience closing and willingness to accept a setup or hybrid role in order to win, he would seem to be a fit for the Phils. But if the payroll is as tight as Amaro claims, the GM will have to trade players in order to create the space to sign a prime free agent. There were rumblings at the meetings yesterday that the Phils were shopping starter Joe Blanton, who is due a raise in arbitration from the $5.5 million he made last season.
While Amaro would not comment on that specific rumor, he acknowledged that he is considering trades to clear payroll space. "It's possible," he said. "We're going to have to try and be creative. The premium on some of the guys who can pitch in the back end has become greater and greater, and you try to be creative to create opportunities to be able to acquire those kind of guys."
"I don't want to mess with our rotation as it stands. But that doesn't mean I'll make it a hard and fast rule."
While considering free-agent relievers like Lyon, Amaro is also addressing his bullpen needs, negotiating with the representatives for lefthander Scott Eyre and righthander Chan Ho Park. In both cases, the sides have been unable to agree on financial terms.
The Phillies are interested in Park only as a reliever, though a baseball source said that Park had not ruled out seeking a starting job. It was unclear whether Park had received interest from any teams to sign as a starter.
The Phils met yesterday afternoon with Park's agent, Jeff Borris, in an attempt to resolve their differences over the pitcher's value.
Amaro said that he was comfortable with young lefthanders Sergio Escalona and Antonio Bastardo in an increased role, and that talks to re-sign Park and Eyre had gone so slowly that "I may go sign somebody else because they're waiting around."
With affordable bullpen help so difficult to find, Amaro indicated that the team would likely tender contracts to Chad Durbin and Clay Condrey before the Dec. 12 deadline. Though he has not yet made a decision on the two righthanders, Amaro said that "those are guys we will probably count on."
Not focused on Pedro. Amaro said that he was open to considering re-signing Pedro Martinez, but "that's something that might develop later."
Martinez told the Associated Press last week that he was interested in returning to Philadelphia.
With Matt Stairs not expected back, the Phillies are still seeking one final piece for the bench. That role could be filled by a minor-leaguer such as DeWayne Wise or John Mayberry Jr., and Amaro sounded willing to wait until the season to explore trades.
Extra bases. Amaro said he expected Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero, both recovering from elbow surgery, to be ready by the early part of spring training. . . . Baseball America honored the Phillies as baseball's organization of the year.