For Phillies, hot stove chatter begins in earnest

ORLANDO, Fla. — Ruben Amaro Jr. whisked through the lobby of the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes wearing a Bluetooth earpiece. He dropped his bag upstairs, shook some hands, and stopped a conversation when Marlins general manager Dan Jennings approached.

"We'll talk later," Amaro said to him.

That is Amaro's dream, although an acquisition of Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton is improbable. Even Amaro is willing to admit it. His immediate priority is the procurement of a starting catcher, and he downplayed the notion of being in a poor bargaining position. He wishes to sign a catcher before November ends.

The Phillies want to re-sign Carlos Ruiz. Amaro has said that in many instances and repeated it Monday. Ruiz, too, prefers the Phillies. Both sides have engaged in negotiations but refuse to disclose the impediments to a reunion.

Ruiz, who turns 35 in January, is believed to be seeking a three-year contract with a significant raise from the $5 million he made in 2013. The Phillies can offer a two-year deal with a possible option.

"We're still chatting," Amaro said.

Amaro, in a bit of posturing, said he was not concerned with the market economics. The top two available catchers — Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia — will demand at least four years and huge salaries. Amaro indicated he has pursued backup plans to Ruiz, although neither McCann nor Saltalamacchia are believed to be options.

"We have a time limit," Amaro said. "There are other targets. We've made inquiries about a lot of different guys. We're on the board in a variety of areas."

Amaro thinks there are "conceivably" six or seven catchers he could employ. He questioned the idea that the catching market was flush with demand amid little supply. The Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Rockies are reportedly seeking a starting catcher. The Minnesota Twins joined the market Monday when they announced Joe Mauer would move to first base.

"There's not as many seats available as people think," Amaro said. "A lot of people have catchers."

If the Phillies balk at Ruiz's price tag, they could pursue a lesser catcher and upgrade another position. John Buck started 101 games last season but managed just a .592 OPS after a torrid April. Dioner Navarro was productive at the plate but started a mere 53 games. Jose Molina is known as a defensive savant without any offense. He started a career-high 87 games for Tampa Bay last season.

Those players have flaws, as does Ruiz. Common sense says a deal with their longtime catcher will happen. Given Amaro's public face, he is not comfortable with Ruiz's demands. The general manager's patience could be tested.

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