LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Ruben Amaro Jr. was given a chance to play director of marketing and ticket sales late Tuesday afternoon in his hotel suite at baseball's winter meetings.
The Phillies general manager has consistently downplayed the idea that he is going to make another blockbuster move like the one that brought Cliff Lee before the 2009 trade deadline, Roy Halladay last off-season, and Roy Oswalt before the 2010 trade deadline.
He has said that the team has limited but flexible resources and it needs to get younger. It's possible, even probable, that the Phillies' biggest move of this off-season will be the subtraction of free agent Jayson Werth, who cashed in his $126 million lottery ticket with the Washington Nationals on Sunday.
At some point, Amaro will add a relief pitcher or possibly two. A righthanded bat remains on his wish list as well. But that's probably it.
So how does Amaro the salesman pitch the idea that the 2011 Phillies can be better than the 2010 team?
"It would be a tough sell offensively, I think," Amaro said after another quiet day passed for the Phillies in this Disney World resort. "Let me put it to you this way: Having those three starters through a full season, I think, negates the difference in the production I think we'll get from the combination of Ben [Francisco] and [Ross] Gload vs. Werth.
"And then there's the fact that we had down years from almost every one of our offensive players except [Carlos Ruiz]. Is that the right assessment? I don't know, but that's how I view it."
It will be interesting to see if the patrons who have packed Citizens Bank Park and painted the town red for the last four years feel the same way. The theory that three stud starting pitchers like Halladay, Oswalt, and Cole Hamels can erase a lot of offensive ills is a sound one. The Phillies went 49-19 in their final 68 games last season despite scoring three runs or fewer in 27 of those games.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is sold on the idea that the Phillies can add to their win total of 97 even after subtracting a bat like Werth's.
"I know we can be a better team," Manuel said.
The manager, like the general manager, believes the Phillies will be better because Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, and Shane Victorino will be better.
"I know Utley's capable of doing better, I know Howard's capable of doing better, and I know Victorino can do better," Manuel said. "And I know Jimmy Rollins has to do better for us."
Hoping for a rejuvenated Rollins and improvements from the other core offensive guys isn't quite as stimulating as Boston adding first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the middle of its lineup. It's not even as exciting as Atlanta's addition of second baseman Dan Uggla last month in a deal with the Florida Marlins.
But it's not unrealistic either. The biggest question mark among that group is Rollins because his production has been down in consecutive seasons and he is 32 years old.
"The expectations of Jimmy are higher than they have been," Amaro said. "At the same time, you can't necessarily rely on him because he's a year older. I'm hoping that he comes in and prepares himself differently as we talked about. I think he's committed to doing that. My gut feeling is that he's going to be closer to what he was as an MVP than he has been over the last two years."
Even if the subtraction of Werth becomes the Phillies' biggest move of this off-season, they will go into the season as the team to beat in the National League. Their pitching staff is as good as any in the National League, including the World Series champion Giants, and their offense and defense are better than San Francisco's. The second-best team in the National League East last season was the Braves, and the addition of Uggla combined with the subtraction of Omar Infante leaves them as the second-best team in the division.
In some ways, this Phillies off-season could unfold a lot like the one three years ago when Aaron Rowand left for San Francisco as a free agent and the biggest addition was Brad Lidge, which at the time was considered a questionable move. Werth and Victorino took advantage of Rowand's departure and became wealthy all-stars.
Domonic Brown and Ben Francisco could be about to receive that same opportunity.
Lidge, of course, was the closer for baseball's best bullpen in 2008, and now he's entering the final season of a three-year deal he signed that season.
Manuel also believes motivation will be a favorable factor for his team.
"Winning is hard, but losing is really hard," Manuel said. "Winning, you have a price to pay. It takes guys like the Halladays and the Utleys . . . that have a lot of determination. That builds in your team. When you do all that and get beat - hey it's tough and it's going to hurt for a while. At the same time, you get over it . . . because you're looking forward to the next day, and you're looking to go back out there and get better. I'm still chasing those Yankees."
That's a pursuit Manuel and the Phillies will likely have to make next season without a huge personnel addition this off-season.