CHICAGO - Two years ago, the Phillies acquired Brad Lidge from the Houston Astros during the general managers' meetings. But that was an exception, rather than the norm. Although Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he had discussions with several teams about trades since arriving at the O'Hare Hilton on Monday, he never expected to leave the Windy City with a revamped roster.
"This is more of a recon mission than anything else," Amaro said as he waited in line to check out from the hotel late yesterday morning.
What has the recon yielded?
First and foremost that the Phillies like their odds of upgrading offensively at third base, most likely through free agency. Although Amaro said he has had discussions with clubs who are looking to move third basemen - he did not name names, but Pittsburgh's Andy LaRoche and San Diego's Kevin Kouzmanoff could be available - he is focusing most of his attention on five or six prospective free agents whom the team feels would fit.
One of those players is versatile Angels infielder/leadoff hitter Chone Figgins, although Amaro has remained publicly pessimistic about his ability to dole out a sizable multiyear contract on par with the 3-year, $31.5 million deal the Phillies handed Raul Ibanez last offseason. The soon-to-be 32-year-old third baseman is an above-average defender who could man the position for at least the next 3 to 4 years (the Phillies do not have any third-base prospects who are anywhere close to major league ready). And with Jimmy Rollins coming off a season in which he hit .250 and is 1 year away from an $8.5 million option in his contract, the need for a top-of-the-order hitter exists.
But whether the Phillies are able to make a serious play for Figgins depends on the market that unfolds after the signing period begins on Nov. 20.
"I think you know me to be an aggressive guy," Amaro said, "but I don't know how the market for the guys we have interest in will develop."
The Phillies feel they have a solid chance of re-signing Chan Ho Park. Amaro said yesterday the club was prepared to make a formal offer to the veteran righthander, who will turn 37 in June. But Park was quoted by the Korea Times yesterday saying he wanted to be a starter, and that he wanted to pitch for a team that would let him start.
"I want to be a starter, the hero of the game who takes full responsibility," Park was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency at a press conference in Seoul, according to the Times.
Still, Amaro said that agent Jeff Borris has told the team that Park is willing to re-sign as a reliever, which is the only role in which the Phillies view him.
Bullpen is a priority for the Phillies. The team has just three relievers under contract for 2010. One is lefthander J.C. Romero, whose recovery from elbow surgery is expected to stretch into at least the first month of the season. Another is Lidge, who had minor elbow surgery yesterday and is coming off a season in which he blew 11 saves and posted a 7.21 ERA. Righthander Chad Durbin, a key piece to the bullpen the last two seasons, is arbitration-eligible, although the Phillies have the freedom to nontender him a contract and make him a free agent.
FoxSports.com reported yesterday that the Phillies have shown "preliminary interest" in Tigers righthander Fernando Rodney, a 32-year-old reliever who posted a 4.40 ERA and saved 37 games last season. But they have reached out to a plethora of agents and likely will not have a good idea about who they may land until Nov. 20.
From there, upgrading a bench that was weak from the right side and adding a backup catcher would be the priorities.
Park is the only remaining free agent from last year's team who might return on a major league deal. The Phillies could wind up offering minor league contracts to players like Paul Bako and Matt Stairs, but the likelihood of either returning is small.
Assistant GM Chuck LaMar said righthander Scott Mathieson, once a top prospect whose career was threatened by two elbow surgeries, has been impressive in the Arizona Fall League. Mathieson is expected in big-league camp, although the team continues to handle him with caution.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.