AFTER HIS TEAM fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series last month, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. made it very clear that his chief concerns this offseason would be solidifying the team's shortstop and closer positions.
Amaro quickly filled the closer position yesterday by officially signing former Boston Red Sox righthander Jonathan Papelbon to a $50 million, 4-year contract.
The Papelbon deal is the second major signing by the Phillies already this offseason after the team agreed to a $1.25 million, 1-year contract with 41-year-old slugger and former Phillie Jim Thome 2 weeks ago. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel could not be more thrilled by either move.
"I think if you watch Jonathan, you see how he gets excited. He was already getting all fired up when I was just talking to him. I could tell he was really happy about coming here," Manuel said. "He's really fired up about it, and I already know Jim Thome. What Thome is going to bring to us is the intangibles. He's going to be talking about hitting 24 hours a day. He's going to be talking to our players, and he's going to be very positive and upbeat."
Those intangibles are exactly what Amaro and Manuel said they are looking for this offseason. They want players who will fit well into the Phillies' current clubhouse and provide more leadership for the team. Of course, Amaro also wants players who he believes can produce on the field.
"Clearly, Jim has a great history with us. I think more than anything else, he helps bring a great voice and a great piece of experience to our clubhouse," Amaro said. "He's still a power threat, but I think more than anything he will be a heck of a mentor for some of our guys. He's just a good person to have in our clubhouse, and I'm hopeful after talking to him that he will be able to play enough to warrant the fact that we brought him back."
Thome was a fan-favorite in Philly from 2003-05 and has a .277 career batting average with 604 homers and 1,674 RBI. He posted a .256 average with 15 home runs and 50 RBI with the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians last season.
"He definitely will help us with our batting," said Manuel, who has maintained a close relationship with Thome over the years. "He's going to make the other manager think because he's got 600 home runs, and I don't think anybody just gave him those. He can still hit them."
Manuel also was not shy yesterday in discussing the possibility of signing versatile, 32-year-old free-agent Michael Cuddyer, who played with Thome in Minnesota. Cuddyer, who batted .284 with 20 homers and 70 RBI last season, made a visit to Philadelphia last week. The potential contract with Cuddyer could rely heavily on what happens with the possible resigning of longtime shortstop and free-agent Jimmy Rollins.
"I was here when we talked to Michael Cuddyer. He's a very strong-minded person, and he would definitely be a great fit on our team," Manuel said. "He has a tremendous attitude, and not only that, but he can play first base, third base, leftfield, rightfield or second base. He said, 'Charlie, I'm a baseball player. I'll play anywhere you want me to play, and I'll do a good enough job that it will pass.' "
As the Phillies brass continues to shuffle to address the team's needs, first baseman Ryan Howard is making encouraging progress in recovering from the torn Achilles' tendon he suffered during his final at-bat in the NLDS loss to St. Louis.
"The last time I talked to him was probably about 10 days ago," Manuel said. "He's going to see the doctor again next week. Right now, he's doing really well. The big test for him will be probably be after about 2 or 3 months. That's when he really starts to move around and do things."
Rightfielder Hunter Pence and third baseman Placido Polanco are also recovering from injuries and both recently had surgeries to repair sports hernias. Manuel added that Polanco is making a quick recovery.