LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - For many of the 31 minutes Charlie Manuel addressed reporters Tuesday, he spoke about how his offense can remain one of baseball's best, the importance of Jimmy Rollins, and how he would enjoy the challenge of possibly fixing free-agent outfielder Jeff Francoeur.
He answered one question that addressed what his boss, Ruben Amaro Jr., has deemed the top priority this off-season: the bullpen.
"I think he's definitely right," Manuel said, "and I agree with that."
On the second day of the winter meetings, the Phillies had what Amaro called "more substantive" conversations regarding some free-agent relievers. A source said they met with Oscar Suarez, the agent for lefthander Dennys Reyes, during the day Tuesday, but did not offer the pitcher a contract.
They also, according to a baseball source, had discussions with the agent for lefthander George Sherrill. Both Reyes and Sherrill would be cheaper alternatives to filling the lefthanded void in the bullpen left by the departure of J.C. Romero. The Phillies remain interested in the top-tier lefties, like Pedro Feliciano, Brian Fuentes, and Arthur Rhodes, but they could price themselves out of the team's range.
Payroll concerns will definitely limit the Phillies' pursuit of a reliever, especially because they could still add a righthanded bat through free agency. Amaro said he has limited flexibility in his budget. The Phillies are also unlikely to sign any pitcher who would cost them a draft pick as a Type A free agent.
The source said the Phillies have told agents they are in no rush to sign a pitcher. The team will continue to kick the tires on all of the bullpen options.
Reyes, who will turn 34 in April, was 3-1 with a 3.55 ERA with St. Louis in 2010. He has a 2.63 ERA over the last five seasons, spent with Minnesota and St. Louis. But even though Cardinals manager Tony La Russa limited Reyes to facing a high percentage of lefthanded batters, he walked 21 while striking out 25.
Sherrill, a pitcher the Phillies have had interest in before, was awful for Los Angeles in 2010. The 33-year-old had a 6.69 ERA and walked 24 batters while striking out just 25 in 361/3 innings. But he was dominant in 2009, posting a 1.70 ERA in 69 innings.
Of course, the Phillies are not the only team looking for lefthanded relief help at these winter meetings. There are plenty of options beyond Feliciano, Fuentes, Rhodes, Reyes, and Sherrill, and that's why the Phillies are in no rush.
"I honestly do not think anything will get done this week while we're here," Amaro said. "But that's subject to change."
The Phillies are also debating whether any of the righthanded bats on the market would be an upgrade over Ben Francisco in right field, and Amaro remained coy when asked about the team's internal assessments.
Manuel talked up Francoeur, and the Phillies have reportedly met with his agent, but there are indications that their interest is not all that serious.
Beyond those discussions, the Phillies did make two roster moves Tuesday that could lead to more this week. Pitchers Jesus Sanchez and Yohan Flande were released to clear space on the 40-man roster, which now stands at 38. That means the Phillies could be active in the Rule 5 draft, which will be held Thursday.
Sanchez, a converted catcher, was the last link from the Bobby Abreu trade. The 23-year-old righthander had a 2.99 ERA in 23 games for single-A Clearwater. Flande, who turns 25 in January, spent the last two seasons at double-A Reading. In 2010, he was 10-8 with a 4.38 ERA. He doesn't have blow-away stuff; he struck out just 84 batters in 1581/3 innings.
Amaro said he hoped to re-sign both players to minor-league deals if they clear waivers.