Ruben Amaro Jr. sounds pretty realistic when it comes to the decisions that he will encounter over the next couple of months. We just finished meeting with the Phillies GM in his suite at the Nashville Opryland Hotel. The hot topic of the afternoon is the four-year $40 million contract that Angel Pagan agreed to with the Giants. I don't see how you can fault the Phillies for passing on that kind of contract for a guy who one year ago was traded straight up for Andres Torres (who has since been non-tendered). But you also can't change the market, or expect it to change, and so you have to acknowledge the possibility that the Phillies might end up proceeding in a direction that is different from what conventional wisdom suggests.
I have always expected Josh Hamilton to re-sign with the Rangers, and I still am sticking to that, so even though Amaro gave a coy "no comment" when he was asked if he has met with representatives for the slugger, I'm still not ready to consider it a real possibility. The one guy who might offer a glimmer of hope is Michael Bourn, particularly since the Nationals recently traded for Denard Span, thus removing one potential Bourn suitor from the market. If the Rangers do not re-sign Hamilton I could see Texas targeting Bourn as a back-up plan. But again, I'm of the belief that Hamilton will end up back with the Rangers.
So who else needs a center fielder? Chances are, Scott Boras will find that team and exploit it. But let's say he really did misjudge this market. Might the Phillies end up making a play for Bourn at a discount?
I did not mention Bourn's name specifically when I bounced this question off Amaro. That being said, the general manager did say, "There are only so many chairs to sit in." If the music stops and the Phillies are the only chair left for Bourn, perhaps their patience/restraint will pay off.
It is also entirely possible that they end up moving on to positions that are not as overvalued as center field appears to be. Maybe that means taking a run at Kevin Youkilis to play third base, and/or Nick Swisher to play one of the corner outfield spots. Or maybe it means doubling down on pitching, fortifying the bullpen and maybe even bringing in a veteran to bolster the rotation, where Roy Hallday is coming off of injury, Vance Worley is coming off a down season (and surgery), and Kyle Kendrick is currently slated as the No. 5 starter.
"We may have to put the money into pitching instead," Amaro said. "Make a strength stronger."
While some fans may be getting impatient with the lack of progress, I'd say the Phillies are having a good offseason so far, because they have not committed $75 million to B.J. Upton or $40 million to Angel Pagan. Both players would have improved this team. But, really, we're talking about B.J. Upton and Angel Pagan.
"It's part of the process," Amaro said. "We liked both players, but it's part of it."
Keep in mind it isn't the big ticket free agent signings that have led the Giants to their two World Series championships. In fact, many of those signings have been busts: Barry Zito, Aubrey Huff, Aaron Rowand. The Phillies might be better off diversifying their roster through a series of smaller deals. And then, if they need to, perhaps they can swing a trade for that big missing piece later in the offseason or in the middle of next season. I'm not saying that is what they will do, or what they should do. Just that it is in option. And in a marketplace in which Jonny Gomes got $5 million for multiple years, you have to consider all options.
Frankly, I don't think they have a great idea about what they will end up doing.
"We didn't really have a Plan A," Amaro said. "We had like 10 Plan Bs."
The worst thing they can do now is panic and overpay for an inferior player.
"This offseason, we're going to have to be as creative as we can possibly be to make our team better," Amaro said. "It's not a great market."