From his first comments since the season ended to his evaluation of the free agent and trade markets on the second day of the Winter Meetings, Ruben Amaro Jr. has repeatedly used one word to describe how he would have to operate this offseason.
So while the New York Mets held a press conference to officially announce a contract extension with David Wright, and while the Washington Nationals add Dan Haren and Denard Span, the Braves add one Upton brother and are rumored to be in on the second, and the Marlins unload everyone other than Billy the Marlin, the Phils have been uncharacteristically quiet.
But quiet shouldn’t be misinterpreted as inactive.
Inside the Phillies’ executive suite is a dry erase board that has a black table cloth draped over it each time the media is invited in for an end-of-the-day rap session. While Amaro has been comfortable seated on the couch for these chats with the media, his top lieutenant, assistant GM Scott Proefrock, is chained to a table and focused on the computer screen in front of him.
He’s probably not checking his Facebook.
So while the Phillies might not open up their wallet to welcome the latest overpaid free agent into their already crowded and pricy stable, they are very likely working overtime in an effort to upgrade their roster. Creatively.
Creative could mean working on signing a lower-profiled center fielder while attempting to trade for a corner outfielder or third baseman. It could mean adding to a team strength – starting pitching – through a stealth pursuit of a free agent.
But it could also mean looking at the current roster and shaking things around to create flexibility.
Vance Worley is a name that’s come up in the last two days as a potential trade chip. As a talented and young starting pitcher, Worley is probably the easiest pitcher to move on the roster in a trade; and since he isn’t even arbitration-eligible yet, he’s very attractive as a cheap, effective arm that a team can have control of for more than a year or three.
But perhaps the Phils can keep Worley and still add another starting pitcher to fill another void.
Like the market for center fielders, the market for setup relievers has dried up. Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria, two talented relievers coming off Tommy John surgeries, have signed team-friendly deals and a few others (Jeremy Affeldt, Jonathan Broxton) have been wildly overpaid.
The Phillies need a veteran, setup reliever.
Being creative means thinking outside the box. So why not consider shifting Worley to the back of the bullpen and bringing in a back-of-the-rotation, free agent starter to fill the void on the roster?
The 25-year-old Worley had an excellent run as a starting pitcher for his first 1 ½ years in the Phillies rotation. But he began to struggle early last year and durability hasn’t ever really been his strength.
In his second full season in the big leagues, Worley went 6-9 with a 4.20 ERA in 23 games (all starts). He pitched into the seventh inning in just seven of those games, or less than 1/3 of the time he took the ball every five days.
And he appeared to tire or at least become less effective as he pitched deeper into games.
In the first three innings of his starts, Worley had a 2.61 ERA in 2012. In innings 4 through 7, Worley had a 6.05 ERA.
Worley allowed one home run and struck out 57 while walking 19 in 69 innings 1 through 3; he gave up 11 home runs while striking out 50 and walking 28 in the 64 innings he pitched from the 4th through 7th innings.
Worley also sported a t-shirt more than once last year that read “Running Sucks,” so he’s not exactly the Roy Halladay Jr. of the staff, either.
So perhaps Worley’s stuff would play up better in a relief role, where the Phils could really use an experienced pitcher capable of missing bats to go alongside lefty Antonio Bastardo…
“That is the thinking out of the box we’d have to consider,” Amaro said. “I don’t know if that’s our best choice, but we’ve done thing with flip-flopping starters and relievers before, with (Brett) Myers and when we got (Brad) Lidge. We’ve done that kind of thing before.
"I’m not sure if (Worley) is that guy. We view him as one of our starters. We have other candidates that I think are better suited to do that.”
Other candidates include Bastardo, Phillippe Aumont and Mike Stutes. But as the Phils learned last year, you can’t have enough available arms for late-inning work and experience is a must.
“It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider it,” Amaro continued. “If we don’t have depth … and we feel like those guys aren’t ready to do it, we’d have to keep our minds open to all possibilities.”
That’s where the Phillies are out right now: quiet but not inactive, brainstorming through every possible scenario to improve their roster this winter.