MLB Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Tricks Ruben Amaro Jr. Still Has Up His Sleeve
As the Major League Baseball offseason hits its midway point, just before taking flight at the annual Winter Meetings, a calm has settled over the free agency period. With a little more than two months before conversations about spring training begin, the bulk of the signings around the league have yet to occur.
The Philadelphia Phillies entered the market by making a splash through their acquisition of star closer Jonathan Papelbon but have remained relatively quiet since the deal was finalized. Aside from bringing in a few bats to retool the bench, the club has slowed their approach, along with many other teams around the league.
However, after years of making franchise-defining moves, Phillies fans can rest assured that General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has yet to finish dealing. After watching him lure Cliff Lee away from the big spenders last season and plug holes in the lineup with fan-favorites like Hunter Pence, it’s hard not expect Amaro to be ready to pull the trigger.
So as free agency seems to run into doldrums before the league spurs back to life in just over a week, there is a legitimate chance the Phillies’ front office already has something in the works. Whether it is signing a upper-echelon free agent or making another blockbuster trade, here are five moves that Amaro could still have up his sleeve.
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Reports have the negotiations between the team and their tenured shortstop at a standstill, leaving many to start looking elsewhere for a replacement to lead the team. Though Amaro has never shied away from making the best business decision, there is still widespread belief that Jimmy Rollins will finish his career in Philadelphia.
It would be foolish to think that the ball club would simply let the 11-year veteran walk without doing their diligence in trying to get a deal done. The haggling point seems to be the fifth year of the new contract, allowing Rollins to be under team control until he is 38 years of age.
In recent history, when the Phillies want their man, they eventually do come to an agreement, even if it means compromising one of their pillars of negotiation, such as giving Jonathan Papelbon a fourth year guaranteed with a vesting option for a fifth.
With no suitable replacement outside of the young Freddy Galvis, look for a front-loaded agreement to be made between the parties, giving the Phillies a legitimate shortstop while their championship window is still open.
Wright Time for a Change
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It has been talked about as the most realistic splash that the Phillies could make via a trade before 2012 starts and a move that could push the team to new heights. Though it would come at a hefty cost, the acquisition of Mets third baseman David Wright would change the face of the club’s lineup.
In order to make this happen, Amaro will once again have to dig into his seemingly endless bag of prospects and ship them off to a division rival. Domonic Brown and Trevor May would most likely anchor a deal between the two rivals, forcing the Phillies to face their homegrown products 18 times each year.
A move for Wright would exemplify the “win now” attitude that comes with a dominant yet aging pitching staff and a core that is struggling with durability. Mortgaging the future has become a real possibility for the Phillies, who are seeking at least one more title before the must rebuild their nucleus.
Finding a way to reel in the hated infielder would relegate Placido Polanco to the bench without losing too much on the defensive side of the game. Given the short porch in left field at Citizens Bank Park, unleashing his offensive ability could prevent the team from going cold during a postseason run.
Calling on Cuba
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The Philadelphia Phillies have never been a team to find themselves locked in a bidding war for an international free agent. Not since a small reported interest in Aki Iwamura on the coattails of Daisuke Matsuzaka has the front office been in play to make the big move from overseas.
With a pair of Cuban outfielders set to hit the market, it’s not out of the question for the team to stock up on players with large upside or take a pricey chance to win now. Yoenis Cespedes is the big prize in this winter’s outfield market, entering the league as a 26-year-old center fielder that many scouts see as major league ready.
After hitting .333 with 33 home runs and 99 RBI in just 90 games in Cuba in 2010-2011, Cespedes will cost his eventual buyer a mountain of cash that could hit $50 million over the course of a long-term deal. Should the Phillies decide that tag is too great, they could look at young prospect Jorge Soler.
The 19-year-old defector is said to have the potential to be a 30-30 player at the Major League level, but will require more seasoning before being inserted into the starting lineup. Soler is the cheaper option here should the Phillies show the patience to develop another young outfielder after paying much less than they would for Cespedes.
Reunion with Raaaauuuuul
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When the book closed on the 2011 season for the Phillies, one of the identifiable culprits was the bench for their lack of production and overall value. Bringing in Jim Thome and Ty Wigginton, the club has focused on solidifying their substitutes for the upcoming season.
So what’s one more familiar face, particularly if he’s the one that could bail the team out should young outfielders struggle?
Enter the much-maligned Raul Ibanez, who still sits waiting in the free agent pool for a gig with a decent amount of playing time. And after displaying a healthy relationship with the club and declining arbitration for the good of their draft, the Phillies would seem to have a chance to bring back the veteran if the price was right.
And for a team with an unsure lineup situation, there interest should be there in a guy who was still able to hit 20 home runs and drive in 84 in a limited role last season. If Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. can’t get the job done as everyday players, the Phillies would be wishing for a somewhat reliable presence on a one-year deal.
Taking Care of Their Own
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When free agency hits and a flurry of deals start to hit the news wire, it's often easy to forget that each player about to change teams was let go by their former club, giving them the right to seek employment elsewhere. For the Phillies, this offseason may also be about keeping their own stars out of the market's eye for years to come.
Still working off of their old deals, players like Cole Hamels, Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino are headed toward big paydays from someone. For Phillies fans, they're hoping that they stay in the City of Brotherly Love.
There has been much discussion over a possible Hamels trade, a rumor that was shot down quickly by all parties. And while the players have no issue working under their current deals, it never hurts to get your stars locked down before they can get the scent of greener pastures.
This winter, look for the Phillies to begin talks and open up lines of communication between the front office and the agents of their important contributors. Hamels and Victorino want to remain in Philadelphia as of now, but there is no guarantee that remains the case without showing the loyalty they have earned.