NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Ruben Amaro Jr. insisted he was not frustrated. Tired? Sure. But not frustrated.
Same goes for Charlie Manuel, who spent part of the afternoon hunkered down with the front office decision-makers in the Phillies suite on the sixth floor of the Opryland Hotel. There was not a lot of positive body language in the room, at least not while reporters were present. Then again, it can be difficult to look excited when you have spent 72 consecutive hours inside a glass-domed conference center that feels like a Vegas casino without the free booze.
The challenge that Amaro & Co. face this offseason has crystalized over the past few days as agents have seen their personal economies explode thanks to a dizzying series of free-agent signings that had many executives around the league grumbling under their collective breaths.
The Phillies have seen a run on two of the positions that they are targeting in the market, with centerfielders B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan and Shane Victorino all signing deals that far exceeded Amaro's comfort zone. Infielders Eric Chavez and Jeff Keppinger, both of whom can play third base, signed more reasonable deals Wednesday, with Chavez getting 1 year and $3 million with Arizona, and Keppinger landing 3 years and $12 million with the Chicago White Sox, according to various reports.
One could read the Phillies caution as a sign that they are attempting to fill all three of their positions of need - third base, centerfield and one corner outfield spot - while also acquiring at least one veteran setup man.
Assuming Amaro, as he has stated, plans to keep the payroll in the neighborhood of where it was last year, the Phillies likely have between $23 million and $34 million to spend (we'll define "neighborhood" as anywhere between $178 million, which is this year's luxury-tax threshold, and $189 million, which is next year's).
On Wednesday, Manuel offered a clear indication that the club plans to sign a corner outfielder in addition to a centerfielder.
"I think we definitely need a corner guy," he said. "I think if we got our outfield as a platoon system, we might be able to cover that, but right now I don't think we could cover the other two spots."
Amaro, meanwhile, said that he is still looking to upgrade at third base. Combine that with Manuel's assertion that the Phillies need more righthanded power in their lineup, and you might envision a scenario in which they make a run at former Red Sox star Kevin Youkilis, who has hit at least 16 home runs in each of the last six seasons.
But while Amaro said earlier this offseason that he thought the veteran could still play everyday at third base, Youkilis appears to have no shortage of suitors, which could mean having to pay a premium price for a player who has not started more than 122 games in any of the last three seasons and who hit just .235 with a .336 on-base percentage and .409 slugging percentage for the Red Sox and the White Sox last season.
The only other options on the free-agent market are all lottery tickets: former top prospect Ian Stewart, recently nontendered by the Cubs, and veterans Chone Figgins and Orlando Hudson, both of whom have been released over the last year due to poor performance. In other words, no clear offensive upgrades over whatever combination of Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis would man the position if the season started tomorrow.
While a lot will depend on whether the Phillies decide to make a serious run at Michael Bourn, there are some obvious trade candidates at centerfield, including the Rockies' Dexter Fowler (although the asking price is said to be very high), and the Athletics' Coco Crisp, who would actually make a whole lot of sense given Oakland GM Billy Beane's love for young pitching and the Phillies' abundance of it.
The 33-year-old, switch-hitting Crisp put up a solid .265/.337/.436 line against righthanded pitching last season and appears to be without a position in the wake of Oakland's trade for Arizona centerfielder Chris Young. Crisp might not offer much of an upgrade over the production the Phillies received from Shane Victorino and John Mayberry Jr. last season, but at $8 million (including a $1 million buyout for 2014), he would leave them room to sign a righthanded hitter like Cody Ross and maybe even Ichiro Suzuki, who the team continues to discuss. Or they could look to deal for a power bat who fits the bill. (Josh Willingham?)
"Some of the names they're kicking around up there, yeah, it definitely could help us," Manuel said.
Both Manuel and Amaro left the impression that Darin Ruf will enter spring training with an opportunity to win regular at-bats in leftfield. Everything else remains unsettled. The hot stove has remained cold thus far. But the Phillies insist they are not breaking a sweat.