LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Ruben Amaro Jr. is still predicting a quiet week. But he admitted that the Phillies had some serious discussions with free agents who could fill their most pressing needs: namely, a lefthanded reliever and a righthanded outfielder.
"Honestly, I do not think that anything is going to get done this week while we're here," Amaro said as he sat in the Phillies' suite at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel on Day 2 of baseball's annual winter meetings. "That's subject to change. I will say this: We have had some more substantive discussions with some free agents out there, particularly bullpen guys."
One player on the Phillies radar: lefty George Sherrill, who was nontendered by the Dodgers after a disappointing season. Sherrill, who earned $4.5 million, struggled mightily in 2010, finishing with a 6.69 ERA in 65 appearances. But his numbers remained solid against lefthanded hitters, who batted just .192 with a .573 OPS against him.
The Phillies were also scheduled to meet with representatives of veteran lefty Dennys Reyes, who posted a 3.55 ERA but struggled against lefthanded hitters last season for the Cardinals.
The Phillies could also make a play for lefty Pedro Feliciano after losing out on his former teammate with the Mets, Hisanori Takahashi, who signed a 2-year, $8 million deal with the Angels.
One of the biggest plot lines of the winter meetings from a national perspective is the free agency of one-time Phillies ace Cliff Lee, who is being heavily pursued by both the Yankees and the Rangers. The Phillies always have maintained dreams of reacquiring the lefty, but reports out of New York yesterday suggested the Yankees were willing to offer him a 6-year contract, something the Phillies are unlikely to be willing to do. So unless Lee takes a discount, a return to Philadelphia seems to remain a longshot.
"We haven't closed any doors," Amaro said when asked of the chances of acquiring a big-name pitcher. "If I were a betting man I would say probably not going to happen, because that's not necessarily our priority, but we can't close any doors."
There are no major developments to report on the outfield front, although the Phillies do not appear to be serious players for former Braves leftfielder Matt Diaz. Their level of interest in former uber-prospect Jeff Francoeur is unclear, although manager Charlie Manuel endorsed such a signing yesterday.
"You know something, I've always liked Francoeur," Manuel said. "I've always thought he had a lot of talent, and he proved that, I think, when he first came to the big leagues. For some reason the last couple years he hasn't produced in a way that you would want him to . . . I know the kid. If you go ask him, he'll tell you that he's going to do better and he wants to do better, and he knows he's better than how he's been the last year or 2, because he's that kind of guy.
"I think when you look at someone like that, that's baseball. Sometimes those are the guys that step up. And I'm sure you're going to ask me about Jayson Werth, but I remember when Jayson Werth was a guy like that. Some people got ability, and those are the guys you take the chance on. And Francoeur has been in the big leagues a while and has some experience. I think he definitely hasn't reached his potential yet and he's capable of putting together some good seasons."
Charlie Manuel said he and hitting coach Greg Gross might invite top prospect Domonic Brown to Philadelphia to work with him on his hitting at some point before spring training. Brown struggled at the end of the big-league season and then left winter ball early, but Manuel is holding out hope that the outfielder can open the 2011 season with the Phillies, saying, "I'm not ready to send him to the minor leagues yet . . . I want to take a good look at him" . . . The Phillies cleared a couple spots on the 40-man roster yesterday, releasing minor league pitchers Yohan Flande and Jesus Sanchez. The most immediate result is that the team will have some flexibility to add a player in the Rule 5 draft tomorrow morning . . . Manuel said he was not concerned about the drop in Ryan Howard's power last season, saying he never fully recovered from the sprained ankle that sidelined him for 3 weeks in August. Said Manuel: "When he came back, he didn't use his legs at all." *