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Phillies should pursue big-name pitcher

Someone like free agent Jordan Zimmermann would stabilize the staff and still be around when the team contends.

BOCA RATON, Fla. - Matt Klentak arrived at Major League Baseball's General Manager Meetings at the Boca Raton Resort and Club on Monday.

After surveying the canvas that is the Phillies organization - first in organizational meetings in Clearwater, Fla., two weeks ago and then in moving into his office at Citizens Bank Park last week - Klentak will have the opportunity to mingle face-to-face with his fellow GMs for the next three days during his third full week on the job.

Unlike the Winter Meetings, the GM Meetings are often inactive, in terms of player movement. The arbitration process is still a month away from beginning and free agency has just started.

While Klentak's predecessor, Ruben Amaro Jr., was often active in early November (Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd and Jim Thome were all free agents plucked off the market early), most teams move methodically through the first month of the offseason. But that doesn't mean groundwork can't be laid for later deals. Amaro made big gains in the eventual deal that brought Roy Halladay to Philadelphia at the GM Meetings six years ago.

It's expected to be a quiet offseason for the rebuilding Phillies. Since they probably won't contend for the next two years, the Phillies are not likely to pursue big-name free agents this winter.

So what should they do?

Sign a big-name pitcher. Yes, two of the last three sentences you read contradict each other. But this is the opinion of one man: Hone in on one or two free-agent pitchers who you think could fit into your plans of fielding a winner when the time comes and put forth your very best offer.

Consider Jordan Zimmermann. The Nationals, loaded with starters, including baseball's top pitching prospect, Lucas Giolito, aren't going to re-sign him. Zimmermann doesn't turn 30 until May, meaning he's 2 1/2 years younger than Cole Hamels. His ERA (3.66) was a full run higher in 2015 than it was in 2014, which isn't too much of a cause for concern at his age and is possibly a reason he'll end up getting a lot less than the likes of David Price and Zack Greinke this winter. He's averaged more than 200 innings in the last four years, all after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

The Phillies have money, thanks to their new Comcast deal that kicks in this winter and the payroll flexibility that only increases after this year. Throw an aggressive five- or six-year deal to Zimmermann, who gives you innings this year to ease the burden on your young staff and still would be on the roster and in his prime if and when the team can contend as soon as the end of 2017 or 2018.

Again, Klentak doesn't expect to go this route, and if you were to place a bet, it would be best to bet on him not going this route. But pursuing a pitcher on this market might be better than waiting for what might never come.

"The timing of this year's free-agent class or future free-agent classes factors into everything that we do," Klentak told reporters last week. "What we have to remember - all of us - is who we project to be free agents in a year or two may change, too. A lot of teams are locking up their young players in free agency, so we may say that in 2017 or '18, we may want to do 'X', 'Y' and 'Z.'

"It's hard to do that with players who aren't in the organization, because you don't know if they will ever reach free agency. That figures with the time frame of development of our own players, but the ability to supplement our own core."

Cut ties with Ryan Howard. Yes, this is a lot easier said than executed - the Phillies tried mightily to move Howard last winter and had almost no interest. But how much money were they willing to eat then? With John Middleton's increasing voice at One Citizens Bank Way - and that number being smaller a year later - perhaps it will be easier to swallow the dollars and find Howard a new home.

Howard has $35 million still coming to him ($25 million salary for 2015, $10 million buyout for 2017). If Baltimore loses Chris Davis as a free agent, would the Orioles take Howard at $5 million for 2016 with the Phillies eating the remaining $30 million?

Klentak and Co. might not be able to pull off such a deal, but they should try just as hard as Amaro and Co. did last winter. It's a symbolic move more than anything, continuing to turn the page on a team that has traded fellow franchise icons Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels within the last year.

Funnel money into scouting, bolstering Klentak's staff. If the Phillies are not going to spend heavily this winter (and there's certainly a lot of logic to going that route) put more money into the farm system. Let the new GM hire his own assistant who can aid the improving analytics department.

Hire away a scout or two from teams that seem to have an endless supply of prospects, such as the Red Sox, Cardinals or Cubs. Find a front-office person or coach who excels in one area and overpay for him, as the Marlins did in plucking pitching guru Jim Benedict away from the Pirates last month.

Give Dallas Green Award winner Sal Agostinelli more support for the international market. Spend on that international market (but avoid older projects such as Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez).

The GM Meetings begin Tuesday, when Klentak will speak for the first time since arriving in Florida.