INDIANAPOLIS - Much of the Phillies' attention at these winter meetings has been trained on upgrading a top-of-the-line reliever and a back-of-the-rotation starter, with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and other members of his front office sifting through the pool of veterans availabe in free agency and via trade. But while the Phillies have targeted several veterans currently on the open market, their focus isn't entirely limited to players with major league experience.
Yesterday, Amaro added righthander Scott Mathieson to the list of young organizational pitchers who will likely compete for a spot in the bullpen in spring training, while the most intriguing new name to surface was that of highly touted 21-year-old Cuban lefthander Aroldis Chapman, whom sources said the Phillies have kept an eye on over the past year.
Yesterday, Amaro denied having interest in signing Chapman at the present time, but the club scouted him at the World Baseball Classic in San Diego in March and has kept tabs on him since.
Chapman's main selling point is a fastball that has been clocked as high as 102 mph, an aberration for a lefthanded pitcher. And while he struggles at times with his command - in his one WBC start in San Diego, he allowed three runs and walked three in 2 1/3 innings - many scouts who have seen him pitch believe he has the ability to some day pitch near the top of a major league rotation.
But there are plenty of unknowns about Chapman, from his command to the obvious lifestyle changes that will confront a young man who recently has fled the only country he has ever known. And ESPN.com recently quoted one MLB executive who predicted that Chapman would land a deal in line with the 4-year, $15.1 million contract that Stephen Strasburg, the top overall pick in the 2009 draft, signed with the Nationals.
Chapman defected during a trip by the Cuban national team to Amsterdam in July and has since changed agents, from the relatively unknown Edward Mejia to the well-established Hendricks brothers.
While a high-profile signing like Chapman remains a longshot - and certainly would do little to fill the void at the back end of the rotation that the Phillies face this year - they remain hopeful of adding another starting pitcher who can compete with veteran lefthander Jamie Moyer and young righthander Kyle Kendrick.
Amaro said yesterday that the team has kept tabs on several pitchers who are attempting to rebound from injuries in the hopes of finding one who represents a promising "low-risk, high-reward" acquisition. The Phillies have expressed some interest in veteran righthander John Smoltz, but Amaro said last week he was unsure if the longtime Braves starter/closer would accept the type of role the club is trying to fill.
Another player who could fit as either a starter or a reliever is righthander Justin Duchscherer, who went 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA in 22 starts for the Athletics in 2008 but missed 2009 while battling injuries and clinical depression.
The Phillies figure to spend a chunk of their remaining money on upgrading the back end of their bullpen, where lefthander J.C. Romero is recovering from elbow surgery and closer Brad Lidge will be attempting to recover from both elbow surgery and a dreadful 2009 campaign in which he blew 11 saves and posted a 7.21 ERA.
Amaro ruled out the possibility of using top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek in relief, but said Mathieson, a hard-throwing righthander who is making an improbable comeback from two elbow surgeries, will get a chance to compete. In an ideal world, the Phillies would like to treat Mathieson with caution, given his past elbow problems. But Amaro did say that Mathieson and young lefties Antonio Bastardo and Sergio Escalona could factor into the mix in the spring.
"We may be in a position where we go with a little bit younger of a bullpen," Amaro said. "It depends on what happens here. I guess my overall philosophy would be for me that in the back end of the bullpen . . . you'd like to have guys who are veteran guys, guys who have been through the wars and dealt with the adversity. In a perfect world, you'd have young starters and veteran type relievers. But that's in a perfect world. We may have more young players in our bullpen this year."
Ruben Amaro wouldn't label negotiations with righthander Chan Ho Park and lefthander Scott Eyre as a stalemate, but said the Phillies have made offers to both players.
"It depends what you mean by stalemate," Amaro said. "We're comfortable with the numbers we've presented, and if those are numbers that won't really get it done then we might have to go ahead and move on. I'm sure they're trying to maximize the value, which is the job of the agent . . . We're still talking."
Slow news day
Ruben Amaro and members of his front office spent much of yesterday in meetings, both with executives from other clubs and with agents of players who are on the market. But don't count on the Phillies adding to their roster by the time the winter meetings end tomorrow.
"I would say probably not," Amaro said. "That said, we do have offers out there, and if players do take them, then we would have something done."
Ruben Amaro said he was surprised more free agents did not follow the lead of Braves righthander Rafael Soriano and accept arbitration. "I'm glad," Amaro said . . . The Phillies have not made any final decisions on whether to tender contracts to righthanders Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin by Dec. 12's midnight deadline, but Amaro said they likely would.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.