DANA POINT, Calif. - In his third full day as a major league general manager, Ruben Amaro Jr. was plenty busy. He estimated that over the course of the first 2 days of the general managers' meetings at the St. Regis Monarch Beach resort, the Phillies' contingent has talked to at least 27 major league teams to gauge the potential for a trade that would upgrade the World Series champions. Nothing is imminent, but Amaro did categorize some of the discussions as "interesting."
There is also the matter of filling the openings on both the coaching staff and in the baseball operations department. Some announcements could come in the next couple days.
And then there are the team's three major free agents. No headway has been made on a potential deal for Pat Burrell, although negotiations will likely begin soon with reliever Scott Eyre and starter Jamie Moyer (more on that in the notebook).
But it was a conversation Amaro was scheduled to have last night with agent Casey Close that underscored one of the biggest subplots of the Phillies' offseason. Close's Creative Artists Agency represents righthander Joe Blanton and first baseman Ryan Howard, both of whom are eligible for arbitration this season.
While the meeting was nothing more than an informal chat - Amaro said no negotiations would take place - at some point this offseason the Phillies will consider signing some of their 10 arbitration-eligible players to multiyear deals.
Howard, who was awarded a record $10 million in arbitration last spring and is coming off a season in which he led the majors in home runs and RBI, will likely draw the most attention. He and the Phillies failed to come to terms on a long-term extension last offseason. This year, both sides will try again.
But the situation involving players like Jayson Werth and Ryan Madson, both of whom can be free agents after next season, will be just as interesting to monitor.
Werth is coming off a career year in which he hit .273 with 24 home runs and 67 RBI, and established himself as the team's everyday rightfielder.
Madson, meanwhile, shook off an inconsistent first half of the season to establish himself as the setup man during the Phillies' run to their first World Series title in 28 years. He finished the regular season 4-2 with a 3.05 ERA, posting the fewest walks and hits per innings (1.234) he's allowed since 2004, when he went 9-3 with a 2.34 ERA in his first full major league season. In 11 postseason appearances, he went 1-0 with a 2.13 ERA.
But while the Phillies view both players as part of the team's future, that viewpoint won't necessarily translate into multiyear deals.
"A lot of it depends on the player, and a lot of it depends on what we have coming down the pike and where we want to go beyond 2009," Amaro said. "If you are talking about guys like Madson and Werth, they are big contributors to our club obviously and we would love to be able to retain them beyond 2009. But again, anytime you get into a negotiation, it kind of takes two to tango."
As evidence of the challenge that could await, consider a conversation with agent Scott Boras, who represents Madson. When asked if a multiyear deal is a possibility, Boras said he had left a message for Amaro "congratulating him on his appointment" and telling him that "we would be catching up soon."
But Boras then went on to compare the setup/closer combination of Madson and Brad Lidge to the famed Mariano Rivera-John Wetteland duo who led the Yankees to a World Series title in 1996.
Rivera, then a setup man, went 8-3 with a 2.09 ERA and threw 107 2/3 innings that year while finishing third in the NL Cy Young voting.
"Ryan was extraordinary [this season]," Boras said. "He comes into the postseason and does things - he exhibited traits and quality of being a setup guy. Obviously his velocity is of the highest order, his ability to handle pressure situations down the pennant drive and the postseason, when you add all that to the resumé, I think he'll be highly coveted. He's a very young guy and obviously was a very important dynamic to Philadelphia's success."
The Phillies signed lefthander J.C. Romero to a 3-year, $12 million extension last season. Although Romero, 32, was a free agent, it sounds as if it would take much more than that to get a deal done with Madson, who turned 28 on Aug. 28. The Phillies still control Madson, who earned $1.4 million this season, for another year.
"Hopefully the players want to stay and hopefully you match what you think their worth is with what they think their worth is," Amaro said. "That's something we have to think about. Especially with Ryan Madson's case, he's really grown up, and obviously pitched extremely well for us at the end. But again, it takes two to tango, so we'll see how it gets worked out." *