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Amaro, Phillies honing in on three areas of need
PHILADELPHIA -- Something has to happen soon, right?

Since the Phillies ended their season Oct. 3, the front office has been working to rebuild a roster that needs help following a disappointing 81-81 record and third-place finish in the National League East. Those internal discussions, those phone calls to agents and opposing front offices about players, those things have been building to what should be a busy couple of weeks, which includes the Winter Meetings next week in Nashville, Tenn.

One of those things fell flat on Wednesday, when the Phils learned center fielder B.J. Upton had agreed to a five-year, $75 million contract with Atlanta Braves, according to reports.

Upton had been Philadelphia's top offseason target. His move to Atlanta sends the Phillies back to the phones, where they will try to find a different center fielder.

Angel Pagan?

Michael Bourn?

Josh Hamilton?

Shane Victorino?

Those are some names to watch in the coming weeks. There are positives and negatives with each of them.

"We've had several discussions," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said earlier this week. "We continue those discussions with people, and things will probably start to move forward the next week or so. We're still in the process of having significant dialogue on a number of fronts. People always ask, 'Is anything close?' Well, I don't believe in things being close until things are done. There are always ebbs and flows in discussions and negotiations, and this isn't any different than any other year."

The Phillies continue to focus on three areas: outfield, third base and bullpen.

Pagan makes some sense because he seems likely to cost less than Hamilton and Bourn. But Pagan doesn't hit for power, which is something the Phils need. Hamilton has numerous risks both on and off the field. He also is going to cost a lot. Bourn is a defensive wizard who steals a ton of bases, but he also hits left-handed with virtually no power.

Oh, and Bourn's agent is Scott Boras, so don't expect any bargains.

Who knows? Maybe the Phillies will reunite with Victorino, who might cost less than anybody at this point.

If those avenues prove fruitless, the Phils could explore trade opportunities. Colorado's Dexter Fowler has been mentioned as a possibility for some time.

But the Phillies are not going to wait to fill their hole in center field before filling holes elsewhere. They had been closing in on a trade Wednesday for Houston right-hander Wilton Lopez, although that is not official.

"There are priorities, but they don't always have to work in sequence," Amaro said. "Obviously, there are things we want to address. The outfield is one thing. Offense, perhaps a third baseman. Perhaps some pitching depth. Hopefully we can get a couple of these things done."

But here is the thing: there are no sure things this offseason. In winters past, Philadelphia nabbed the best players available at their position: closer Jonathan Papelbon in 2011, left-hander Cliff Lee in '10 and right-hander Roy Halladay in '09.

The Phils knew those players would meet their expectations, at least early in their contracts.

They aren't chasing those players this offseason. Those sure things aren't out there.

"The free-agent market is a different kind of market, because there are no slam dunks," Amaro said. "But I don't know if there are any slam dunks overall. Pap was the best closer on the market last year, but we still didn't win. He pitched extraordinarily well for us, but we didn't win. It takes more than one or two pieces to put things together and have success. We can put all the pieces together we want, but if the guys we're counting on to be the guys -- Chase [Utley], Jimmy [Rollins], [Ryan] Howard, Lee, Roy, Cole [Hamels] and Chooch [Carlos Ruiz] -- if those guys aren't performing for us, then it's going to be difficult, regardless of who we get."

More than anything, the Phillies will need their current players to be healthy and produce -- most specifically, Utley and Halladay. Utley has missed the first few months of the past two seasons because of bad knees and has not played in a Spring Training game since 2010. Halladay suffered a mediocre '12. He insists a new offseason training program will get him back on track, although it is fair to wonder if all those innings on Halladay's right arm are catching up with him.

Head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan recently visited Utley in California, and Amaro has talked to Utley several times. Utley is taking ground balls every day, which is a different program for him. But the Phils and Utley feel that constant baseball activities will keep his knees healthy and the areas around them strong.

"He is doing extremely well," Amaro said.

Sheridan also visited Halladay in Florida.

"Roy also is doing extremely well," Amaro said. "We're in a pretty good position as far as our health is concerned."

That is the hope, although the Phillies can't control injuries. They only can control who they put on the roster. The Phils will find somebody to play center field next season. They also could find a second outfielder, because at the moment, they have no guarantees in left field or right field with Domonic Brown, Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr., Laynce Nix and Nate Schierholtz. They also could find somebody to play third base, although the free-agent market is thin. If they don't find a third baseman, it looks like Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen could platoon there.

"An option could come from within," Amaro said of third base. "A lot of it depends how the pieces fit together for us, whether we get multiples in the outfield, whether we get a third baseman and outfielder."

Amaro insisted he is not itching to sign anybody, but the pressure just turned up a notch with Upton off the board.

It is going to be a busy couple of weeks.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for

Philadelphia Phillies