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Amaro scoffs at Hamels, Lee trade rumors

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says team is trying to add starting pitching, not subtract.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (Matt Slocum/AP)
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (Matt Slocum/AP)Read more

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Roy Halladay's decline, declaring for free agency and then sudden retirement on Monday was a stark reminder of a glaring hole that still remains on the Phillies' roster.

The rotation still needs a replacement for Halladay, and starting pitching depth in general.

So when rumors of the Phillies listening to trade offers for Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee swirled through the hallways and conference rooms at Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin Resort yesterday morning, it was pretty difficult to take them seriously.

"Silly," Amaro called the latest batch of trade rumors tied to his team.

Three years ago, the Phillies assembled a rotation filled with aces when they signed Lee to complement a rotation with Hamels, Halladay and Roy Oswalt. The Phillies don't necessarily need four aces again, but they do need capable, dependable arms.

Subtracting a talented and durable arm like Hamels or Lee would appear to be counterproductive - and also not wise for a sellout-conscious team looking to sell tickets, not burn them.

"We are trying to add," Amaro said. "As I've said before, the best way for us to win is with our pitching, particularly at the top of the rotation."

With little on the major league roster and upper echelons of the minor leagues, the Phillies will look to add multiple starting pitchers before spring training. Ideally, Amaro said, he'd like to add at least one pitcher in the form of a "No.2 or No.3" starter.

The free-agent market has not been kind to general managers looking for starting pitching.

Phil Hughes, coming off a season when he was 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA in 30 games (29 starts) with the Yankees, got 3 years and $24 million from the Twins. Jason Vargas, who has a 4.30 career ERA, got 4 years and $32 million from the Royals.

Among free-agent starters still looking for work are righthanders Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. Veterans Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett, 36-year-olds who could get shorter-term deals, could also be fits for the Phillies.

But the prices are currently sky-high.

"The asks are astronomical - and rightfully so because we've seen the market do some crazy things," Amaro said. "We'll see."

Given the high price of adding pitching, it would make little sense for the Phillies to subtract Hamels or Lee, two of the game's best pitchers. But given the high price of pitching, the Phillies would only be doing their due diligence in seeing what other teams would give up for Hamels or Lee, too.

If a team in dire need for an impact starter had to choose between, say, giving Garza a 5-year, $90 million deal or trading a couple of prospects and taking Lee and the 2 years and $62.5 million left on his deal, it certainly would make that team think.

It does no harm for the Phillies to listen. Flash-forward 6 months: If the Phillies find themselves 10 games under .500 and out of contention, they at least have the knowledge of what they might be able to get back in a Lee trade.

But the Phillies are not actively trying to trade Lee or Hamels this winter, said Amaro and manager Ryne Sandberg.

"We're trying to add starting pitching," Sandberg said. "That's out priority . . . not subtract."

In the last 4 months, the Phillies have committed $67 million in new contracts to three players who will be 35 years old or older come Opening Day: Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd. If the idea that trading away your best starting pitchers helps you increase pitching depth makes little sense, trading away the kind of starters who are the difference between being a possible contender and a definite pretender, while spending money on aging offensive players, makes zero sense.

"We are built to contend," Amaro said. "That's our job, to try and win."

After assembling the offense, in signing Byrd and Ruiz last month, Amaro believes he's taken the necessary steps to put the Phillies back into contention.

"We're built to win," Amaro said. "We're built to win. I like our lineup. I'd like to add some pitching to it."

The Phillies' payroll is not unlimited. If they hope to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, they have roughly between $30 and $40 million they can spend in finalizing their roster.

And that's also assuming the Phillies venture close to $189 million. Amaro said his team should be able to contend in the $165 million neighborhood the payroll was at last year, although he said there was some flexibility to add, too.

If the Phillies only plan to do minor tinkering with the offense - adding a fourth outfielder who can play centerfield - that $30 million-$40 million would appear to provide enough flexibility to fill their other needs. But that money can also go pretty quickly if you're adding premium starting pitching.

The Phils may or may not dip their feet into those waters. They will certainly dive headfirst into the bargain bin, however.

"I don't think we're going to add two highly salaried guys," Amaro said of his quest for starting pitching. "I think we're going to try to add as much depth as we can. If two [pitchers] is the right number . . . we might have to take a chance on somebody. A low-risk, high-reward type of a guy. We might get a couple of those guys. We're going to try to create as much depth as we can because last year it was rough watching the guys that we ran out there."

Sometimes those deals work out. Two examples: Scott Kazmir with the Indians last year, Bartolo Colon with the Athletics the last 2 years.

Regardless of what exact route Amaro takes - he said he's still more likely to add pitching through free agency than a trade - he appears to be content with playing the waiting game in acquiring more pitching.

"At this stage of the game," Amaro said, "it's important to be patient and see where the market goes."