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Amaro taking creative approach to free-agent market

With core returning, Phillies looking for right-handed bats, bullpen arms

PHILADELPHIA -- This is a critical offseason for the Phillies.

When they missed the postseason in 2012, they pointed toward injuries to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay. They believed a healthier team in 2013 would return them to their winning ways from 2007-11, when they won five National League East championships, two NL pennants and one World Series.

But the Phillies lost 89 games in 2013, indicating that there were more than health issues at play.

They have holes that will not be easy to fill. The Phillies are expected to return the core from that 89-loss squad, including Howard, Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Domonic Brown and Ben Revere. But the front office knows it can't just add a piece here and there, cross fingers and hope everything breaks right.

"I think we have to be careful about that," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "We have to try to be creative, maybe a little more creative if we can. Can we go into the season and hope that our health holds up? We could. Is that the right thing to do? It may not be. We have to get better. We have to get better in a lot of areas. We need pitching. We need depth in the rotation. We have to be better with our bullpen."

Now that the World Series is finished, the Phillies have five days to exclusively negotiate with their own free agents before it is open season. Halladay and Carlos Ruiz are their biggest names. Philadelphia has said re-signing Ruiz is a priority, but asked recently about those negotiations, Amaro said, "There is nothing new to report."

Here is a hot-stove primer as the offseason begins:

Contract issues

Free agents: right-handers Halladay and Zach Miner, left-hander John Lannan, catcher Ruiz, infielder Pete Orr, outfielders Roger Bernadina and Casper Wells.

Eligible for arbitration: left-handers Antonio Bastardo, right-hander Kyle Kendrick, infielder Kevin Frandsen, outfielders Revere and John Mayberry Jr.

Contract options: None.

Non-tender possibilities: Mayberry.

Areas of need

Right-handed bat: One of the reasons the Phillies want to re-sign Ruiz is that he is a right-handed hitter. The Phillies had a .679 OPS against lefties this season, which ranked 11th in the NL. Five of their eight potential everyday players next season hit left-handed: Howard, Utley, Brown, Revere and Cody Asche. Amaro has said that the club will consider adding lefty hitters that can hit southpaws, but the club must find true balance somewhere. Unfortunately for Amaro, barring a trade, the options on the free-agent market are slim with the Rangers' Nelson Cruz, the Cardinals' Carlos Beltran and the Brewers' Corey Hart leading the way among outfielders.

Rotation: After Hamels and Lee, there are three question marks in the five-man rotation. Can Cuban right-hander Miguel Gonzalez be an effective big league starter? If the Phillies plan to tender Kendrick a contract like Amaro said last month, will he bounce back from a rough second half? Lastly, who will be the fifth starter? They could bring back Halladay, although it would be a risk. They could sign a free agent, although Tim Lincecum's two-year, $35 million contract with the Giants should have the Phillies sweating bullets. If Lincecum can get that much money, despite a 4.76 ERA the past two seasons tossing half of his games in a pitcher's park, how much can an arm with more upside get? If those options don't interest the Phillies, they could go with Jonathan Pettibone or somebody else within the organization.

Bullpen: The Phillies felt confident about their bullpen entering this season because of positive performances from young relievers late in 2012, but that confidence proved unwarranted. Will the Phillies bolster the bullpen with veteran arms? It makes sense, although their recent track record with free-agent relievers is shaky.

2014 payroll

The Phillies already have $112.5 million committed to just eight players next season: Lee ($25 million), Howard ($25 million), Hamels ($22.5 million), Utley ($15 million), Papelbon ($13 million), Rollins ($11 million), Mike Adams ($7 million) and Gonzalez ($4 million). That does not leave a ton of room to find a catcher, corner outfielder, starting pitcher and reliever or two, plus pay arbitration-eligible players like Revere, Bastardo, Kendrick and Frandsen.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for
Read More: Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, Charlie Leesman, Roy Halladay, Chase Utley