LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Walking by a gaggle of reporters on his way out of the posh Waldorf Astoria here at Disney World, Ruben Amaro Jr. held up his hand and formed a circle with his finger and thumb.
The message? No news to report.
That doesn't exactly come as a surprise. At this time last year, the free-agent signing period had yet to even begin. (Free-agency dates changed earlier this fall as a result of bargaining between the league and the players association prompted by collusion allegations.) The markets for various positions are still in their formative stages, and the Phillies don't figure to contend for any top-dollar players.
"We had some productive discussions with some agents on free agents and with other clubs,'' Amaro said, declining to talk specifics.
The weather was considerably brighter than the outlook for re-signing free agent rightfielder Jayson Werth. Amaro and super-agent Scott Boras chatted on Tuesday, but the situation remains unchanged. The Phillies are still unlikely to meet Werth's expectations as they currently stand.
"I'm not going to discuss Jayson Werth,'' Amaro said.
Amaro was, however, noticeably effusive in his praise of Raul Ibanez, going as far as comparing him to Werth. A reporter asked the GM about his thoughts on the 38-year-old leftfielder, who is entering the final year of a 3-year, $31.5 million contract he signed prior to the start of the 2009 season. Over the last 2 years, Ibanez has hit .273 with an .843 OPS, 50 home runs, 176 RBI and 168 runs. But both seasons have featured lengthy slumps. After starting 2009 with one of the most impressive tears of his career, Ibanez hit just .228 with a .758 OPS in his final 84 games after suffering two abdominal tears that would require offseason surgery. Those struggles carried into 2010, when Ibanez hit just .241 with a .721 OPS and seven home runs through July 8. But he finished strong, hitting .308 with an .867 OPS and nine home runs in his final 73 games.
"I think we can count on the same kind of production he had last year, perhaps a little bit better,'' Amaro said. "He takes care of himself extremely well. He's in great shape. He has the body of a 25-year-old.
"He had a slow start [in 2010] and I talked to our trainers about it a lot. I think coming back from surgery had a toll on his start overall. He was moving much better physically in the outfield at the end of last year, his bat looked quicker, his legs looked stronger. Overall, he didn't have the kind of year that he'd like to have had, but there was pretty significant production there from the middle of the season when he started to turn it on, until the end of the season.
"He was still a pretty productive player and when you look at his numbers, they're not all that different from Jayson's last year. What did he have, 83 RBIs? Jayson had 85. He didn't have as many opportunities as Jayson did to drive in runs. Clearly, Jayson had more runs scored and his on-base percentage and stuff were better, but [Ibanez] had 37 doubles and five triples. The difference in their production was not all that great.''
Those comments can be interpreted any of a number of ways, from Amaro simply expressing confidence in his veteran leftfielder to greasing the skids for Werth's departure to attempting to build a trade market for Ibanez.
The latter situation will be easier said than done, with Ibanez set to earn $11.5 million in 2011, when he will turn 39 (he also has a partial no-trade clause). But it can't be ruled out, especially if the Phillies are willing to eat a chunk of salary in a deal and feel that the remaining saving can be used toward replacing Werth.
Werth, for the record, hit .296 with 27 home runs and a .921 OPS in 2010. Ibanez finished with a .275 batting average, .793 OPS and 16 home runs.
Amaro will return to Orlando with most of his front office for the winter meetings, which take place Dec. 6-9. The general managers meetings were a low-key affair, with the GMs discussing various economic and competition-related matters. The most newsworthy topic was the potential expansion of the playoffs from eight to 10 teams, which commissioner Bud Selig said would be further discussed at the winter meetings. The 2012 season seems to be the earliest such a change would be implemented.
The Phillies agreed to a minor league deal with lefty Dan Meyer earlier this week and, according to their website, also have reached an agreement with former Tigers third base prospect Jeff Larish.
"Things seem slow right now,'' Amaro said. "Usually, things pick up closer to the winter meetings and during the winter meetings. We tend to make decisions closer to the winter meetings. Things ramp up. But things are moving slowly overall.''
Former second baseman Mickey Morandini told the Times of Northwest Indiana that he is returning to the Phillies' organization, where he will manage the short-season Class A Williamsport Cross Cutters in 2011. Morandini has spent the past 4 years coaching at Valparaiso High in Indiana. He has served as a spring-training instructor and there has long been a mutual interest in bringing him back to the organization.
The Phillies have until midnight tonight to add players to the 40-man roster, thereby protecting them from the Rule 5 draft. Top relief prospect Justin De Fratus, who could compete for a big-league job this spring, is a sure bet to be added. First-base prospect Matthew Rizzotti also must be added to the roster or be exposed to the Rule 5, in which other major league teams can select unprotected players.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese. Follow him on Twitter at