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Phils look to complement young stars at Meetings

High-upside youngsters will get opportunity to sink or swim in 2017
MLB.com @ToddZolecki

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies could certainly use a few things before Spring Training begins in February. But they still want to see how many of their young players rise to the occasion in 2017, and the only way they can see that is if they play them.

So expect few surprises, if any, next week at the Winter Meetings. But Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said recently the front office remains committed to exploring options for improving the 2017 team.

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies could certainly use a few things before Spring Training begins in February. But they still want to see how many of their young players rise to the occasion in 2017, and the only way they can see that is if they play them.

So expect few surprises, if any, next week at the Winter Meetings. But Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said recently the front office remains committed to exploring options for improving the 2017 team.

Hot Stove Tracker

MLB.com and MLB Network will have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 Winter Meetings from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, D.C. Fans can watch live streaming of all news conferences and manager availability on MLB.com, including the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 8 at 9 a.m. ET.

Club needs

Hitter: The Phillies acquired Howie Kendrick in a trade with the Dodgers on Nov. 11. He hit .255 with eight home runs, 40 RBIs and a .691 OPS last season. Kendrick is expected to be the Phils' everyday left fielder, which leaves them little wiggle room for another bat because they are committed to young players elsewhere. But there is no doubt Phillies manager Pete Mackanin and his coaching staff would love more help on offense.

Video: Klentak on Kendrick's makeup, how he will help Phils

If the Phillies add another hitter, it seems likely it would be somebody who helps in a reserve role, either as an extra outfielder or infielder. They have options for reserve outfielders, but they're shorthanded in the infield. Andres Blanco is a free agent. Of course, if they find the right trade partner, all bets are off.

Catcher: Mackanin said he would like a veteran catcher to back up Cameron Rupp, but the team already has three catchers on the 40-man roster: Rupp, Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, the Phillies' No. 11 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com. ESPN.com reported there is mutual interesting in A.J. Ellis returning. If that happens, it's likely to come after the Rule 5 Draft. But Ellis had a tremendous influence in the clubhouse following the August trade with the Dodgers. He could be a great benefit to the team's young pitching staff.

Bullpen: The Phillies could use more bullpen help. They acquired Pat Neshek in a trade with the Astros, but another reliable veteran arm could fortify a 'pen that ranked 28th in the Major Leagues with a 5.01 ERA.

Video: Duquette on what Phils look to do at Winter Meetings

Who they can trade if necessary

The Phillies are open minded. They engaged in trade discussions in July about right-hander Vince Velasquez, and he was the prized piece in last December's Ken Giles trade with Houston. But if the Phils are going to trade one of their top young talents, they will require something significant in return.

Top prospects

The Phillies have one of the best farm systems in Major League Baseball, but they are not looking to move anybody, again, unless they get an offer they can't refuse. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is the No. 2 prospect in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. Outfielder Mickey Moniak (No. 24), outfielder Nick Williams (No. 48) and Alfaro (No. 58) also are in the top 100.

Video: Top Prospects: Mickey Moniak, OF, Phillies

Rule 5 Draft

This might be the first year since 2011 and just the second year since 2005 the Phillies will not select a player in the Rule 5 Draft. They recently placed 11 prospects on the 40-man roster, protecting them from being selected by other teams in the Rule 5 Draft. So for the Phils to actually take a player Thursday, they would have to like a player from another team more than they like one of the players they just protected.

It certainly is possible, but it is far from a lock. It is more likely the Phillies will lose a player or two in the Rule 5 Draft. Possibilities include left-hander Hoby Milner, right-handers Miguel Nunez and Seranthony Dominguez; shortstop Malquin Canelo and outfielders Carlos Tocci, Jose Pujols and Andrew Pullin.

Big contracts they might unload

The Phillies have no significant contracts weighing them down after releasing left-hander Matt Harrison ($13.2 million) and taking the $10 million buyout on first baseman Ryan Howard's $24 million club option.

Payroll summary

The Phillies have $33.7 million committed to right-hander Jeremy Hellickson ($17.2 million), Kendrick ($10 million) and Neshek ($6.5 million). Each of those three will become free agents following the 2017 season.

Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Jeanmar Gomez and Cody Asche are eligible for salary arbitration. MLB Trade Rumors estimates they could make a combined $12.8 million next year. Galvis ($4.4 million estimated salary) and Hernandez ($2.5 million) will be tendered contracts before Friday's 8 p.m. ET tender deadline, but Gomez ($4.6 million) and Asche ($1.3 million) are not a sure thing.

Following those seven players, the Phillies have minimal salary commitments, but the team dosn't plan to spend a ton of money right now. Again, they want to use 2017 to see which youngsters sink or swim and then hit the free-agent market hard, most likely beginning next offseason, when they have a better sense of what they truly need long term.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Philadelphia Phillies