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Phillies standing pat at Winter Meetings, but prospects seem slim

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"KEEP ON PHIGHTIN' WITH JOE VALLEE"

 Ruben Amaro is looking over his shoulder, and he and the entire Delaware Valley saw the National League East get a lot more competitive over the last week.

 For starters, the reigning NL East Champion Nationals landed Denard Span and right-hander Dan Haren on a one-year deal. The addition of Haren makes the trio of Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann all the more nasty.

Meanwhile, the Braves, landed center fielder B.J. Upton and reliever Jordan Walden in a trade. The addition of the towering Walden only further solidifies a nasty Braves bullpen.  
 
Then there’s the Phillies.........
 
Can you hear the birds chirping?
 
While it’s intriguing to see what Amaro might (or might not) have up his sleeve at the winter meetings in Nashville, the Phillies’ inactivity so far this offseason is not really a big surprise. Unlike the Yankees, there’s not an unlimited check book here, and we knew at the end of 2012 that the Phillies’ payroll isn’t exactly what you would call maneuverable. This is what happens when you have several players taking a chunk out of your payroll with multi-year contracts (Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee).

Speaking of Lee, the rumors that have him going to Arizona for Justin Upton appear to be just that. Lee might not be the same Lee of 2009, but with the effectiveness of Roy Halladay in question in 2013, Lee and Cole Hamels could still be a formidable one-two punch in the National League East.Josh Hamilton photo: mlbreports.com

Regardless of whether it’s an outfielder or any other position for that matter, it’s pretty obvious that the free agency market has seen better years. Personally, I think B.J. Upton’s true colors will eventually come to light while playing for the Braves, Michael Bourn strikes out WAY too much for a leadoff hitter, and Josh Hamilton wants too many years and has too many personal issues.

Furthermore, the Phillies need new blood, not Shane Victorino and a $39 million dollar contract. And are you going to give 39-year-old Ichiro a long-term deal?  A $40 million dollar deal for Angel Pagan? Do you want 36-year-old Alfonso Soriano in a trade? As usual, Colorado wants an arm and three legs for anybody who they attempt to trade, so that might put Dexter Fowler out of the picture for the Phightins despite his small salary.

While there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of outfielders this winter, there’s a scarcity over at  third base. The best option appears to be soon-to-be 34-year-old Kevin Youkilis. While the Phillies have expressed interest, Youkilis could also be a fit for the Yankees, who were recently informed that Alex Rodriguez will miss 4-6 months due to hip surgery. The Rangers’ Michael Young seems to always be mentioned in trade rumors, but is there anybody available who is not in his mid-thirties that can actually make the Phillies younger (no pun intended)?

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So what does all this mean?

It’s an interesting thought. Long known for being the master of the blockbuster deal, Amaro could do two things:

1. Make that blockbuster deal...if there’s one out there to make- From Cliff Lee (Part 1), Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Lee again and Hunter Pence, when Amaro goes big, he goes BIG.

However, the farm system isn’t exactly depleted, but the only real attractive pieces are the team’s young pitchers. Trevor May and Vance Worley have recently been mentioned in trade rumors. After this, there’s very little on the board that has other potential trade partners chomping at the bit to deal with the Phillies.  

In saying that, don’t count Amaro out just yet. He’s surprised us before, and in the next few weeks, he could do it again.

2. Change his approach- It’s hard to argue with success, but unlike Pat Gillick, Amaro’s failure to acquire key role players to help the team down the stretch is one of the reasons the Phillies have failed to advance in the playoffs since winning the World Series four years ago. After all, the Scott Eyres, Matt Stairs, Tadahito Iguchis and Pedro Felizes were all key role players at one time or another during Gillick’s tenure. Where have they been over the last few years? Ben Francisco for one at bat in the playoffs? You’ve all watched plenty of postseasons to know it’s not uncommon for a team’s big guns to go cold, and bench players or lesser known starters to step up in the clutch.  

Just look at the Giants and Cardinals the last three years. Who the heck are these guys?!  I know it’s easier said than done to try and acquire hitters to get the right hit at the right time, but there were more role players than superstars who lifted those teams to victory.  As the Phillies showed in 2010 and 2011, the best pitching or best record mean absolutely nothing on today’s game. This is even more magnified with the addition of the second Wild Card.

I’m not trying to tell Amaro how to do his job, but maybe switching things up might work. Hey, if you get get a superstar for the right price and it benefits the Phillies, go for it. But maybe less is more sometimes.

The next week and change could be very eventful. The Phillies have a knack for waiting in the weeds, so stay tuned.

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Hamilton photo: mlbreports.com