LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The Phillies have five starting pitchers on their 40-man roster. One carries a career 4.38 ERA. Another has never thrown a pitch in American professional baseball. A third has 18 major-league starts to his name.
Ruben Amaro Jr. is searching for pitching at these winter meetings, and that is no secret. The Phillies general manager is alarmed at the market prices for a mid-rotation starter. He could acquire one via a trade, but his chips are limited. The path to improving a starting staff that ranked 14th among National League teams in ERA is muddled.
It is increasingly becoming apparent that the Phillies must decide what they value more: a young power-hitting outfielder or a No. 3 starting pitcher. Domonic Brown is their best commodity. For years, they have listened to offers for him. That, of course, does not assure a trade. Brown, four years from free agency, is the type of player every team would covet. The Phillies would want a pitcher with similar upside in return.
Removing Brown from an offense that scored 3.77 runs per game in 2013 - the franchise's lowest output since 1988 - is problematic. Brown bashed 27 home runs last season and became an all-star. The Phillies harbor concerns about his defense and durability.
"Domonic is part of what we're trying to do moving forward," Amaro said. "He's a very good young player, and when you have people on your team that teams have interest in, you get rumors. That's part of the process."
A sheer lack of depth in the rotation could force Amaro's hand. Behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are Kyle Kendrick, Miguel Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone. Amaro cast doubt upon Gonzalez, the $12 million Cuban import. When the righthander was signed last August, Amaro said Gonzalez slotted in his rotation. He was less definitive on Monday.
"We hope that he is," Amaro said. "We can't necessarily count on it."
Gonzalez was barred from pitching in Cuba because of a previous attempt at defecting. He pitched in some showcase games and international tournaments for scouts, but his recent workload is minimal. The Phillies did not send him to winter ball. Gonzalez began a conditioning program Monday in Clearwater, Fla.
"It is a concern because he hasn't pitched competitively for a long time," Amaro said. "But we're going to do everything we can to prepare him to do that."
The Phillies have not been tied to any of the top available pitchers like Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza. Amaro said he did not talk to Detroit about Doug Fister before he was traded to Washington. The GM was coy when asked if he would submit a bid for Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka. Even if he does, other teams are likely to offer more money than the Phillies.
Bronson Arroyo told reporters the Phillies have expressed interest in him. But Arroyo, who turns 37 in February, is seeking three years. The Phillies made an aggressive offer for Scott Feldman, but it fell considerably short when he signed with Houston for three years and $30 million.
Depth must come from somewhere.
"Pettibone is not a slam dunk and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is not a slam dunk, so there's opportunity for someone here," Amaro said. "I'd like to have them step up. But there's opportunity there. None of those guys are definites."
Reliever Mike Adams underwent recent surgery for a sports hernia. Amaro said he is cleared to begin a throwing program sometime next week. The team is optimistic he could be ready for opening day, but his rehab from shoulder surgery is significant. Adams will make $7 million in 2014.