LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - When the Phillies sent minor league lefthander Rob Rasmussen to the Toronto Blue Jays in a trade last week, they were left with five starting pitchers on their 40-man roster.
Sure, major league rotations only have to be five players deep. But every team deals with pitching injuries every year so depth is essential.
The Phillies used 10 different pitchers to start games in 2013 and nine in 2012.
Baseball's winter meetings got underway at Walt Disney World's Dolphin hotel with the Phillies in near-desperate need to add that starting pitching depth.
"We are more focused on trying to add starting pitching depth more than anything else," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said from the Phillies' front-office suite yesterday afternoon.
Amaro has always put a priority on starting pitching.
In his first year after taking over for Pat Gillick, Amaro added both Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez midway through the 2009 season. He continued a relentless pursuit of Roy Halladay in the winter that followed.
Despite having a rotation stacked with aces - Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt - Amaro spent $120 million to add another when he brought Lee back to Philadelphia three offseasons ago.
As the rotation stood yesterday, the Phillies have more question marks than aces. After Hamels and Lee, the Phils have the inconsistent Kyle Kendrick, who is a year away from free agency, Cuban rookie Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and second-year righthander Jonathan Pettibone.
"None of those guys are definites," Amaro said, referring to Gonzalez and Pettibone. "Right now, if we opened the season, they'd have a very good inside track, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be looking to improve there."
Amaro went as far as saying the team "can't necessarily count on" Gonzalez, who the team paid $12 million late last summer. Adam Morgan, the closest minor leaguer to big-league-ready, pitched in just 18 games in 2013 while battling shoulder issues.
It would be difficult to imagine a scenario where the Phillies don't add at least two more potential starting pitchers in the next 2 months.
More than a handful of free-agent starters already have come off the market. And given the player-friendly state of that market (Jason Vargas, a pitcher with a career 4.30 ERA, got 4 years and $32 million from Kansas City), the Phillies are likely exploring their options through trades.
In the last 5 days, foxsports.com and cbssports.com reported that the Phillies were shopping outfielder Domonic Brown and closer Jonathan Papelbon, respectively.
"We don't comment on rumors," Amaro said. "Domonic is part of what we're trying to do moving forward. He's a very good young player and when you have people on your team that teams have interest in, you get rumors.''
"He's our closer," Amaro said. "He's still a very important part of what we are trying to do.''
Despite 2 years of going backward in the standings, the Phillies are hellbent on being a contender again in 2014. With an aging core of former All-Stars and little ready-made help on the farm, Amaro has few options in trying to upgrade the rotation unless he considers Brown or takes a plunge in the tenuous free-agent pool.
Among the free-agent pitchers still looking for work: Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Bronson Arroyo and Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, so long as MLB finalizes a new posting rule for Japanese players. Veteran A.J. Burnett - an older but effective pitcher who probably could be had on a short-term deal - would seem to be a fit, but is reportedly deciding between retirement and a return to Pittsburgh.
Amaro was noncommittal when asked if he thought he'd be able to address the starting pitching problem at this week's winter meetings.
Amaro is optimistic veteran setup man Mike Adams will be on the Opening Day roster.
The 35-year-old Adams pitched in just 28 games last season after signing a 2-year, $12 million deal last December. He underwent right shoulder surgery on July 31 and had sports hernia surgery within the last month.
"He's the only guy right now - knock on wood - who may be questionable for Opening Day," Amaro said. "He's been cleared to throw starting next week. And the only reason it took this long was because of the hernia. Arm-wise he was ready to throw a couple of weeks ago."
In addition to starting pitching, Amaro also wants to add depth and athleticism to the outfield, particularly in centerfield, where John Mayberry Jr. is in line to be Ben Revere's only viable backup . . . Manager Ryne Sandberg said he could see starting sure-handed infielder Freddy Galvis "two to three times a week" at third, second and shortstop . . . The Phillies have two of the first seven picks (fourth and seventh) in Thursday's Rule 5 draft.