LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The table was littered with papers, a counter near the bathroom was stocked high with boxes of snacks. Members of the Phillies' baseball operations staff sat on chairs or couches to form the makeshift base of operations in a suite at the Dolphin Hotel, where this week's winter meetings are being held.
Ruben Amaro Jr. would like everyone to think not much is going on in the room. The Phillies, he said, are still prioritizing bullpen help over acquiring an outfielder to lessen the sting of losing Jayson Werth to Washington in free agency.
Domonic Brown may not be a part of a possible outfield platoon, Amaro suggested, because he might need more minor-league time.
Any move, the GM said, likely would not come this week. "I think it's going to be fairly quiet for us," Amaro said.
Of course, Amaro said something similar last winter shortly before acquiring Roy Halladay in a blockbuster trade.
This time, the Phillies are at least testing the temperature of the market. They are far from the only team here interested in a righthanded outfield bat and a lefthanded reliever - and many options exist. In a players' market, where hefty contracts are frequently being handed out, the most prudent action could be patience.
Given that, the New York Daily News reported that the Phillies were expected to meet with free agent Jeff Francoeur's agent, Keith Grunewald, sometime during the meetings. The Phillies expressed interest in Francoeur long before the meetings began, but he is just one possibility for a platoon in right field. Scott Hairston and Matt Diaz are among the others.
The Nationals are reportedly shopping Josh Willingham, who could exactly fit the Phillies' needs, but the price and interest in a possible trade are unknown. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Phillies could be interested in a trade for Angels outfielder Juan Rivera. Amaro did hint at there being more players available via trade than he expected.
But Amaro stressed that the Phillies are still debating whether any of the free-agent options offer more than Ben Francisco.
"That's the trick," Amaro said.
Interestingly enough, Amaro mentioned Ross Gload as a possible lefthanded platoon partner but not Brown. The Phillies' top prospect recently returned to the United States after a sluggish nine-game stint in the Dominican Republic.
"If we had our druthers, we'd rather put Domonic in a position to get the at-bats he kind of lost last year and prepare himself better - work on his outfield, his baserunning," Amaro said. "In a perfect world, we don't need Domonic to make our club, unless he shows us in spring training that he's ready to take that next step."
Then again, Amaro said his primary focus is not on the void left by Werth.
"Outfield is not really the priority," Amaro said. "For us, the priority is the bullpen."
That, too, could take some time to develop. Amaro said he has not closed the door on reliever Chad Durbin's return. But the two sides likely have a different view of the righthander's value. Amaro suggested he may be able to sign only one free-agent reliever. If that's the case, he prefers a lefthander. The GM also said he's had discussions with "back-end righthanders." Those could include Bobby Jenks and Kerry Wood.
"You can win championships without a lefthanded reliever," Amaro said. "It's more about having quality depth."
But again, Amaro said he is in no rush. When lefthanded relievers such as Brian Fuentes are requesting $6 million to $8 million per season, according to an ESPN report, the market is still developing. With many lefthanded options available, the Phillies likely see no need to be the first ones to sign someone when a pitcher could come cheaper later in the off-season.
Amaro said the Phillies are also willing to turn some bullpen spots over to younger players, an idea he suggested long ago.
"I'd like to open it up to a competition, which would be good," Amaro said. "I would like to get some young players onto our major-league club who could help us. We're going to create a situation where two or three spots may be up for grabs. I like that flexibility and competition."
If anything, the winter meetings provide the chance to toss ideas around the suite table, an audience with agents and other teams, and a better idea of where the market stands.
It doesn't mean the Phillies will leave with any additions to their roster.