THE HOT STOVE does not stop burning for orientations, so the past month has been a rather eventful one for Matt Klentak. Since Andy MacPhail brought his new general manager aboard, the Phillies have worked baseball's back channels of talent as hard as any team, adding starter Jeremy Hellickson via trade, parting ways with Domonic Brown and Justin De Fratus, and claiming three relievers and an outfielder off waivers. To put that last bit into perspective, the Phillies made only six waiver claims between the start of the 2013 season and the end of the 2015 campaign.
As Klentak and MacPhail prepare to head to Nashville, Tenn., this weekend for baseball's annual winter meetings, they still do not have a roster that the bards will sing songs about, but they do have a collection of talent that offers some intrigue, particularly in the outfield, where veteran Peter Bourjos joined the fray earlier this week via waivers.
Bourjos is one of those players who is a living testament to speed with which time can pass. Has it really been four full seasons since he hit .271/.327/.438 with 12 home runs and 22 steals in 552 plate appearances for the Angels? It has, because that was 2011, which was also a season the Phillies led the majors in wins, so, on second thought, maybe time doesn't fly after all. Regardless, Bourjos was a perennial trade candidate, thanks to the emergence of Mike Trout. In November 2013, the Angels finally dealt him to the Cardinals, but he has battled some injuries and struggled to hit enough to beat anybody out. Since 2011, he has homered 14 times in 802 at-bats with 224 strikeouts, 64 walks and a .231/.301/.344 batting line as a reserve with the Angels and the Cardinals.
"Since that time, he really hasn't had the full-time opportunity that he had in 2011," said Klentak, who knows Bourjos well from their days in Anaheim. "Part of that has been some nagging injuries, part of that was the development of Mike Trout, part of that was getting traded to St. Louis, which had a pretty good outfield . . . "
He'll definitely get an opportunity with the Phillies, who now have three outfielders who can play centerfield, while offering varying degrees of offensive upside.
Prospect Aaron Altherr hit .241/.338/.489 with five home runs in 137 at-bats at the end of last season, while Odubel Herrera went from undeserving of a 40-man roster spot on the Rangers to a .297/.344/.418 batting line with the Phillies in 537 plate appearances after never having played above Double A. There is plenty of unknown with both players, but that's part of the fun.
The Phillies have 23 pitchers on their 40-man roster and will be looking to add more, although the three-year, $36 million contract signed by J.A. Happ is a pretty good sign that there are very few bargains to be had on this year's market (which isn't much different from last year's market). The problem they have is that any pitcher who fits their profile - someone looking to pitch their way into a longer-term contract next year - will probably have more attractive options than a rebuilding team that plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark in Northeastern weather. Why not go to San Diego or Oakland or Los Angeles if they'll have you?
Chances are, the rotation will look something like Aaron Nola-Jeremy Hellickson-Jerad Eickhoff followed by some combination of Adam Morgan, David Buchanan, and Alec Asher, at least until the Phillies are comfortable giving guys like Ben Lively, Jesse Biddle, and, perhaps further down, Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin their first taste of the majors.
With a rotation like that, it makes little sense to take on the risk inherent in a long-term, free-agent contract. For now, the Phillies will continue to scrounge for upgrades wherever they can find them. They'll get another chance to strike gold in the Rule 5 draft, when they pick first, and they will continue to enjoy the No. 1 waiver priority in the majors. They'd love to find a needle in the haystack like Luis Valbuena, who gave the Cubs three seasons of league-average offense at third base after they acquired him off waivers, including a 2014 season in which he hit .249/.341/.435 with 16 home runs, enabling the Cubs to leverage him to acquire Dexter Fowler from the Astros (the Cubs also sent Houston Dan Straily, whom they acquired along with Addison Russell in the Jeff Samardzija deal).
Houston struck gold in Collin McHugh, who had a 141 OPS+ in 154 2/3 innings in 2014, and a 103 ERA+ in 203 2/3 innings in 2015.
Edwin Encarnacion and J.D. Martinez are two other examples of players who were avialable via waivers before turning in monster seasons.
According to MLBTradeRumors transaction tracker database, the Phillies made 11 waiver claims during Ruben Amaro Jr.'s tenure, only four of them after Sept. 1, 2014.
By comparison, Theo Epstein has claimed 31 players since assuming control of the Cubs after the 2010 season. The Yankees, Pirates, Rangers and A's have all made 30-plus waiver claims since 2009.
"It's all about opportunity," Klentak said.
The Phillies have plenty of that to offer.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy