INDIAN WELLS, Calif. - The general managers and their assistants filed through the lobby en route to lunch at the Hyatt Regency in this small California desert town, where it was hotter outside than in. Action in baseball's offseason, officially five days old, is deliberate.
These general managers meetings represent a first chance at face-to-face interaction. Ruben Amaro Jr. engaged in such Tuesday, saying he participated in a "significant amount" of dialogue with other teams and player agents.
So far, it's only talk.
"I don't see anything imminent," Amaro said. "We've had good dialogue and there are some possibilities. That doesn't mean anything is going to happen."
Amaro, like any executive at these meetings, will wear his finest poker face in public. The baseball world knows his priority is obtaining a centerfielder. The Phillies GM said he prefers to acquire additions through free agency rather than surrendering more of his younger talent in a trade.
That makes names like B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn, and Angel Pagan the most speculated-about targets.
"I'd rather spend money," Amaro said. "But it's not an unlimited pool to work with. We have some flexibility. I guess I would anticipate our payroll being similar to last year. I'd rather pay for the player than trade for the player. The tricky part about that is you better pay for the right guy. When you pay for those guys, you just don't know how they'll play in Philadelphia."
Amaro stressed defense as a primary trait of his ideal centerfielder. A righthanded batter would be preferable.
"That's not necessary," Amaro said, "but it would be helpful." Upton bats righthanded, Pagan is a switch-hitter, and Bourn hits lefthanded.
"Yes, I'd like to add to our offense," Amaro said. "But we absolutely have to catch it and pitch it. We can't lose sight of that as the basis of how we'll be successful."
The question that festers is this: How many new starting outfielders do the Phillies need?
Once Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were traded within hours of one another, Amaro faced that quandary. He initially issued a strong commitment to Domonic Brown, and the 25-year-old likely has a spot to lose.
Beyond that, Amaro has parts like John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix, Darin Ruf, and Nate Schierholtz who could be combined into one corner spot - that is, if Amaro decides acquiring solely a centerfielder is enough.
"I think we could piece it together," Amaro said.
In 2012, Phillies outfielders ranked 17th in the majors with a .744 OPS, 19th in home runs (52), and 25th in doubles (86). Manager Charlie Manuel used 23 starting outfield alignments. The team entered the season with $20.4 million committed in 2012 salary to its starting outfield.
The five outfielders on the current roster will make less than $5 million total in 2013.
Ruf remains a great enigma. The 26-year-old first baseman has bashed 51 home runs in 176 games (615 at-bats) this season from Reading to Philadelphia to Venezuela. He has continued that assault in winter ball, where he has spent a majority of time in left field (13 of 21 starts there).
The Phillies are closely following his progress, but it remains to be seen how much it could affect their winter strategy.
Moreover, if the Phillies apply a makeshift solution at third base, it could be prudent to overstock the outfield. Last winter, the Phillies passed on adding an outfielder while citing Mayberry's strong second half. Mayberry finished 2012 with the eighth-worst OPS (.695) in the majors among outfielders with at least 450 plate appearances.
"I'm not sure what we have still with some of those guys," Amaro said. "Darin Ruf could be an everyday leftfielder. I don't know that. Is he proven at the big-league level? Absolutely not. Neither is Brown. But that doesn't mean they couldn't be."