MILWAUKEE - Ruben Amaro Jr. couldn't see the Yeonnis Cespedes YouTube video before it was removed from the Internet. But his scouts in the Dominican Republic, where the Cuban outfielder is training in anticipation of becoming a free agent this winter, said a closer look was warranted.
So the Phillies held a private workout for Cespedes on Tuesday at the team's Dominican Republic complex. The priority, Amaro said, was simply due diligence. But there was enough curiosity to send former GM and current adviser Pat Gillick to check him out.
Whether the Phillies would even consider spending at least $30 million (the reported starting point in negotiations) for a 26-year-old outfielder who has never seen major-league pitching is anyone's guess. Most likely, they will not.
Amaro said the team's payroll will be "slightly higher" than it was in 2011, when the team spent about $175 million.
Cespedes is a long shot for some of that money. Nonetheless, Sal Agostinelli, the Phillies' international scouting supervisor, already had seen some of Cespedes, as had pro scouting director Mike Ondo. They wanted to see more.
"We're doing our due diligence," Amaro said at the general managers' meetings in Milwaukee. "We wanted more info."
Numerous teams have gone the same route. The Miami Marlins and New York Yankees have held private workouts with Cespedes. The Chicago Cubs have scheduled one, too. Cespedes - 6-foot, 215 pounds - is projected as a centerfielder.
"He's definitely an interesting athlete," Amaro said.
The Phillies probably will opt for a known commodity over Cespedes. Amaro said he's had discussions with other free-agent hitters in addition to Michael Cuddyer. The Phillies have never paid more than $1.2 million for an international signing (South Korean pitcher Seung Lee), and that was 10 years ago. So entering a bidding war for Cespedes is unlikely.
No rush on Rollins. Amaro said he targeted closer as his first major position this winter because he expects shortstop to take some time. Jimmy Rollins is expected to wait out the market for his desired five-year deal. Depending on how long Jose Reyes, the top shortstop on the market, remains unsigned, Rollins could linger.
"I don't see that moving particularly quickly," Amaro said. I just had a feeling that would be the case."
Amaro said he does not have a date in mind when he'd have to abandon Rollins and move on his contingency plans.
"As I've said all along, we'd like to bring Jimmy back," the Phillies GM said. "We'll have to continue to figure out contingency plans. The goal remains to bring him back if we can."
Here at the meetings, Amaro said his immediate priority is to sign a backup catcher. That could happen in the coming days. Brian Schneider remains a possibility to return, but Amaro has engaged other free agents, too.
Keeping Kendrick. Amaro said he plans to offer contracts to Kyle Kendrick, Ben Francisco, and Wilson Valdez - his three arbitration-eligible players not named Cole Hamels or Hunter Pence. Kendrick is an interesting case because he already made $2.45 million in his first year of arbitration and could be due about $4 million through the process. That's a lofty price for a sixth starter, but Amaro wants depth.
"Frankly, Kendrick has been durable," Amaro said. "He's been effective. He's gotten better. He can play a variety of roles. We don't have a whole lot of starting pitching depth as it is. As far as I'm concerned right now, he's a part of our club."
Francisco will earn a raise from his $1.18 million salary in 2011. Valdez is a first-time eligible player. He made $560,000 in 2011.
Sandberg returning? Two managerial openings in baseball remain unfilled, and Ryne Sandberg is a finalist for neither. The Cubs do not want to hire their Hall of Fame second baseman only to have to fire him one day. The Boston Red Sox never interviewed Sandberg.
In all likelihood, Sandberg will be back with the Phillies, managing at triple-A Lehigh Valley. Amaro said an open invitation has been extended to Sandberg, who has yet to accept.
The carousel could be a major win for the Phillies, who are quite fond of Sandberg. Amaro said he views Sandberg as a managerial candidate in the future. Charlie Manuel's contract expires after the 2013 season.