INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- The Phillies have holes to fill. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has some cash to spend. After a day of talking to agents about free agents, though, Amaro went out of his way to try to lower expectations about how much payroll flexibility teams have.
Asked at the annual General Managers Meetings at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells if he's begun to get a handle on the free-agent market, Amaro used the opportunity to warn against heightened expectations.
"The 'asks' are always very high early," Amaro said. "Once you get signings that come in, they kind of set the market. Then they tend to get higher or lower, depending on the quality of the player and the needs.
"What's a little disconcerting out there is all this talk about how flush Major League Baseball is with cash. It's getting a little overblown. Some of the projected numbers, and I don't really know them, but some of the numbers that are out there are extremely high. The influx of all this money that's supposed to be coming to all these clubs, I caution people that it's not nearly as high as people think."
That perception is based largely on the new national television contracts that have been signed.
"In a lot of cases, clubs are still out there paying off different types of debts," Amaro said. "They've got ballparks to pay off, they've got all types of stuff. So it's not like this is all brand-new money. I think it's good for the industry, but I would caution people about how much real money is out there to be spent."
Regardless, the Phils' priorities remain the same: an everyday center fielder and setup relief.
"I think outfield continues to be a focus of ours," Amaro said. "In particular, center field. It's not a knock against John Mayberry Jr., but I think if we can improve ourselves in that area, that would be something we'd have some interest in.
"How many everyday outfielders do we have on the roster? It depends on what you mean by 'everyday regulars.' [Domonic Brown] could be one. Do I have proven championship-caliber outfielders right now? Probably not. But that doesn't mean ... How many did they have in St. Louis this year? And they had the best offensive team in the league. They had a lot of guys bouncing around. There were a lot of teams with a lot of different mixes out there.
"Is [Gregor Blanco of the Giants] an everyday outfielder? And they won the World Series. So I'm not sure what we have yet in some of those guys yet. Darin Ruf could be an everyday left fielder. I don't know that. Has he proven it at the big league level? Absolutely not. Neither has Brownie. But that doesn't mean they couldn't be."
The Phillies also had problems getting games to closer Jonathan Papelbon, losing 20 games when they either led (12 times) or were tied (eight) after seven innings.
"Again, we don't have that proven guy," Amaro said. "[Antonio] Bastardo could be viewed as that guy, even though he had fits and starts this year. He was also lights-out the year before. So will he bounce back and be lights-out again? At times he was last year. Was he consistently? Not necessarily, no. Can [Phillippe] Aumont and [Justin] De Fratus and [Jeremy] Horst and a combination of those guys do it? It could be. But I think it behooves us to at least explore the opportunity to improve that. It was an Achilles heel for us, there's no question. We may have those guys in-house, but I think we're doing ourselves a disservice if we don't at least explore the possibility of improving that area.
"We've had a lot of dialogue with clubs and free agents' representatives. I mean, a lot of it. We've had a significant amount of trade dialogue for this early in the offseason, I guess. I don't see anything imminent, but we've had good dialogue. There are some possibilities out there. There are three or four things that we've got to do. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together is the challenging part. And the fun part about it, too. It allows you to explore a lot of different things, and hopefully, you can put the right pieces together to improve the club."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.