How should the Phillies fill fifth outfield spot?
Examining the current configuration of the Phillies' 40-man roster and the list of non-roster invitees, the team's most glaring need with 53 days remaining before the start of spring training is another right-handed outfield bat off the bench.
And even that need is not very glaring because, as my colleague Matt Gelb pointed out in this space earlier this month, the job could disappear as soon as Ryan Howard returns from the disabled list.
That role a year ago belonged to John Mayberry Jr. and Ben Francisco and they did fantastic work.
Mayberry, in fact, was so good that he took on a more prominent role after the All-Star break and earned the right to replace Raul Ibanez as the team's primary left fielder in 2012.
Francisco, after botching his chance to become the everyday right fielder last April, actually did a solid job off the bench in the second half and, of course, won Game 3 of the NLDS by blasting a three-run home run in St. Louis. He is now in Toronto after recently being traded for local minor-league lefty Frank Gailey.
If the Phillies' budget for the fifth outfielder is roughly the $1.5 million that Francisco probably would have earned as an arbitration-eligible player, it will be interesting to see who they can get in that price range.
Jonny Gomes, coming off a dreadful season with Cincinnati and Washington, could probably be had for less than that amount. Scott Hairston, a solid bench player with some power, also would probably be willing to come aboard for an amount slightly north of $1 million.
It would be interesting if the Phillies wanted to significantly upgrade the bench by paying more for an extra outfielder. In order to do that, they would likely have to commit to an 11-man pitching staff rather than the 12 that manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee have typically preferred. Given the ability of the top three men in the rotation to go deep into games, we know that the Phillies are one of the few teams in baseball that can even consider an 11-man staff.
Should they choose to go to 11 and invest more heavily in an extra outfielder who can hit from the right side, some of the options become very interesting. The most intriguing is Cody Ross, the man who destroyed their 2010 dream of reaching a third straight World Series.
Ross, who turned 31 six days ago, has recently been linked to Colorado, but as of right now he is still on the open market. He is not worth the $6.3 million the San Francisco Giants paid him last season, but if he'd be willing to come to Philadelphia for around $3 million, that would be a good investment.
Ryan Ludwick, 33, is also still a free agent. It would be fascinating to see how many home runs he could hit at Citizens Bank Park and since he's coming off consecutive disappointing seasons his price tag should not be too exorbitant.
It's also entirely possible the Phillies spend as little as possible for the fifth outfielder with the intent of saving payroll space for the trade deadline. Injuries, of course, are inevitable and having money to spend at the deadline when needs are more identifiable could be far more valuable than any player they can add before the start of spring training.