After a frustrating 2012 campaign saw the Philadelphia Phillies finish 81-81 and 17 games out of first place in the NL East, sweeping changes were bound to come within the organization.
This is an ownership group that has spent heavily in order to add pieces and keep big-named players on the roster. With a down season in the books, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was certainly feeling the heat coming into the winter.
Thus far, he's gotten the job done on a limited budget. The team acquired Michael Young and Ben Revere via trade, but Amaro's work is still far from done. There are still some glaring deficiencies that will need to be taken care of before pitchers and catchers report.
What are the Phillies doing to fix those problems? Here is a look at all the latest rumblings going on around Philadelphia.
Phillies Among Five Teams Interested in J.P. Howell?
Though Philadelphia's bullpen is one of a few areas where manager Charlie Manuel has some sense of comfort, the team is still in desperate need of a left-handed arm. According to MLB.com's Bill Ladson, the Phillies are among five teams that have emerged in the chase for reliever J.P. Howell:
There is still a chance the Nationals could sign Howell. But the Nats have competition for his services. From what I'm hearing, the Phillies, Cubs, Mariners and Rangers have interest in Howell. I don't expect Howell to sign a deal until after Christmas.
Considering all of those clubs also have relief help, bringing Howell to the City of Brotherly Love may take some extra financial love. The 29-year-old lefty had a strong 2012 campaign with the Tampa Bay Rays, going 1-0 with a 3.04 ERA and 7.51 strikeouts per nine innings. That proved to be Howell's bounce-back season after a 2011 season that had him getting some time in the minors after imploding for a 6.16 ERA.
Nevertheless, Howell's 2011 struggles seem to be an anomaly, and he would be a great fit in middle-relief in Manuel's bullpen.
Scott Hairston an Outfield Possibility?
Also on the Phillies' wish list for the offseason is another strong bat, particularly one of the outfield variety. The team had long been rumored as a possible suitor for Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton, but both of those big-named players decided to go elsewhere.
With a seeming lack of interest in bringing Michael Bourn back to Philadelphia, the team's hands are tied in free agency. That's likely why CBS Sports' Jon Heyman is reporting that the Phillies are among the leaders for Scott Hairston's services:
Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 22, 2012
The 32-year-old Hairston spent last season with the New York Mets, where he hit a career-high 20 home runs and knocked in 57 batters in 137 games. Though he's not much of a contact hitter with a career .247 average, Hairston could be a solid platoon fit while the Phillies look to make something bigger happen in a trade.
At the very least, he's a serviceable back-order hitter who won't single-handedly submarine the team's offensive momentum. After last season, that's enough of a positive to make Hairston a worthwhile addition.
Vernon Wells Also on the Team's Radar?
Though the team has been hesitant to add massive salaries to its payroll, Amaro's desire to find a middle-of-the-order bat may force his hand.
A name that's come up multiple times in recent weeks is current Los Angeles Angels outfielder Vernon Wells.
In an article that also mentions the team's interest in Cody Ross, who recently signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman also notes the Phillies have interest in trading for Wells:
The Phillies have free agent Cody Ross plus Vernon Wells on their shopping list now. Ross has long been connected to the Phillies, but Wells is a new name. As with any team trading with the Angels for Wells, they'd expect the Angels to pick up the vast majority of the $42 million left on Wells' contract through 2014.
If Philadelphia is willing to eat some salary, Wells could be had pretty easily in a trade. The 34-year-old outfielder hit just .230/.279/.403 last season with 11 home runs and 29 RBI. It was his second straight season hitting under the .250 mark, and Wells has descended a long way from his All-Star heights.
Nevertheless, if there's still gas in his tank, a change of scenery just might be the thing to spark it.