CHICAGO - Ruben Amaro Jr. arrived at the annual general managers' meetings late this afternoon and listed his priorities for upgrading his team this off-season.
"Third base, bullpen, bench," the Phillies' GM said in the lobby of the O'Hare Hilton, where the meetings run through tomorrow.
What about starting pitching?
"We're more bullpen-intensive than anything else," Amaro said.
The Phils' attempt to build a better bullpen this winter apparently won't stop them from trying to strengthen their starting rotation.
More than one baseball official with knowledge of the Phillies' off-season plan said today that the team remains very much in the picture to acquire Toronto Blue Jays righthander Roy Halladay.
The Phils unsuccessfully pursued the six-time all-star in July and ended up acquiring Cliff Lee from Cleveland instead. The Jays are still looking to move Halladay, and sources say there has been recent contact between that club and the Phillies.
"Philadelphia is into winning now, and Halladay fits that," one rival front-office man said.
As in the summer, there are serious hurdles to the Phillies' pulling off a deal for Halladay. Toronto is looking for a premium package of young, major-league-ready players and prospects. The Phillies balked at the Jays' request of pitchers Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ and outfielders Domonic Brown and Anthony Gose this summer. If the Jays' price has come down - and it may have with Halladay due to become a free agent after next season - the Phils might be open to more serious talks. Drabek, as was the case last summer, remains an untouchable.
The Phils paid nearly $140 million in salary and bonuses in 2009, and they already have more than $106 million committed to 12 players for 2010. That's before Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, and Carlos Ruiz get significant raises. That is also before they get a third baseman and upgrade the bullpen.
There won't be a lot of room to take on Halladay's $15.75 million salary for 2010, but sources say the Phillies might make an exception for that caliber of pitcher and make another big run at the World Series while they have Lee (he can be a free agent after 2010), Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jayson Werth in their primes.
As many as a dozen teams could be in the running for Halladay, so his coming to Philadelphia is far from a sure thing. But don't count it out. These are the glory days for the Phillies. They are thinking big, and players want to play for them.
"We're in a fortunate position," Amaro said in general. "We've become an attractive place to go."
That's one reason the Phils did not pick up Pedro Feliz's $5.5 million contract option for 2010. There are a number of free-agent third basemen, and Amaro believes he can land one.
"It's about getting marginally better if we can, much like we did in left field last year," said Amaro, explaining his decision on Feliz. "I don't see us making a blockbuster. But there's enough quality out there [to justify] not picking up the option. There are more third basemen than third-base positions that need to be filled."
The Phils will investigate top free-agent third baseman Chone Figgins, but his initial price tag of five years and $50 million might give them pause. Figgins has been an important piece in the Los Angeles Angels' success and there are signs that they want to keep him.
The Phils will take a look at Adrian Beltre if his price tag is not prohibitive. Mark DeRosa is a likely target, and there's word he'd like to play for the Phils. Don't be surprised if the Phils jumped on Miguel Tejada or Placido Polanco, both of whom are open to playing third base. Tejada, who made $13 million with Houston in 2009, is looking for a three-year deal, but the market could take him down and make him attractive to the Phils.
Several teams have tried to trade the Phils a third baseman. Boston may move Mike Lowell, but he is owed $12 million for 2010 and has health issues.
"I'd say it's more likely we end up with a free agent at third," Amaro said.
Figgins, Tejada, and Polanco are all Type A free agents, meaning the Phils would lose a first-round draft pick if they signed one of them before Dec. 1 or the player was offered salary arbitration by that date. Amaro said he'd prefer not to lose a pick, but wouldn't let that hold him back if he could sign the right player at the right price. If all third-base possibilities fall through, the Phils could reopen talks with Feliz.
Notes. Raul Ibanez had surgery to repair a sports hernia today. Amaro said Ibanez had damage on the left and right side of his abdomen. There was no report on lefty reliever Scott Eyre, who was scheduled to have loose bodies surgically removed from his elbow. Brad Lidge is scheduled for similar surgery tomorrow. . . . Colorado GM Dan O'Dowd was named Sporting News executive of the year at a dinner tonight.