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Phils remain focused on netting center fielder

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies hope next week is a much better week at the Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.

They had tried to get center fielder B.J. Upton, but he signed a five-year, $75 million contract with the Braves on Thursday. They also had been close to acquiring Astros right-hander Wilton Lopez in a trade, but that is now unlikely. Lopez, who spent time on the disabled list each of the previous two seasons because of an injured elbow, took his physical Wednesday in Philadelphia, but there has been no movement after that.

So the Phils lost their top choice to play center field and a potential setup man this week.

Many expected this to be general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s most difficult offseason, and so far, that has proven correct. There have been no quick fixes, and there are no slam dunks on the free-agent market.

So Amaro and the rest of the Phillies' front office will head to Nashville next week to hopefully fill a few of the holes they have on their roster.

Club needs

Center field: So who's next after Upton? Well, the popular free-agent center fielders are Angel Pagan, Michael Bourn, Josh Hamilton and Shane Victorino. Pagan might be the favorite of the bunch. Hamilton? He is a long shot because of the money involved and the risks on and off the field. Bourn seems unlikely at the moment. He is going to cost a lot of money, and he does not seem like a great fit as a light-hitting-left-handed hitter for a team looking for right-handed power. Victorino makes some sense on a short-term deal, although the Phillies might feel that ship has sailed. If none of those names get the Phils excited, they could try to get creative and make a trade. Or they could go with a lesser center fielder and try to bulk up in the corner outfield and/or third base.

Setup man: Lopez would have been a great get for the Phillies. He would not have cost much, and he would have been under team control for three seasons. But with Lopez out of the picture, Philadelphia will have to reexamine the free-agent market. Two relievers the Phils have liked in the past: Mike Adams and Brandon Lyon.

Third base: There is not much here, other than Kevin Youkilis. Maybe the Phillies will circle back after falling short on Upton. They also could get somebody like Jeff Keppinger, who would give them a little insurance at third. At the moment, Freddy Galvis and Kevin Frandsen are the team's third basemen.

Corner outfielder: The Phils have said Domonic Brown will get a shot in right field. That leaves some combination of John Mayberry Jr., Darin Ruf, Laynce Nix and Nate Schierholtz in left field. But, basically, right field and left field are far from sure things. Philadelphia could look to upgrade with a corner outfielder. Cody Ross and Nick Swisher are free agents. Names available in potential trades include Alfonso Soriano, Michael Cuddyer, Dexter Fowler, Justin Upton and Jason Kubel.

Top prospects

Left-hander Jesse Biddle; right-handers Trevor May, Ethan Martin and Jonathan Pettibone; and catchers Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle are just a few of the organization's better prospects. They have some depth at pitcher and catcher, so if the Phillies make a trade, they could dip into that pool.

Rule 5 Draft

Like every organization, the Phils will comb through hundreds of scouting reports to potentially find a hidden gem in the Rule 5 Draft. In recent Drafts, their research netted them Victorino, David Herndon and Michael Martinez. Philadelphia's 40-man roster looks crowded at the moment, but if the club sees somebody it likes, it could grab a player on the final day of the Winter Meetings.

Big contracts they might unload



Left-hander Antonio Bastardo ($505,000 in 2012) and outfielder Schierholtz ($1.3 million).

Non-tender candidates

It is possible the Phillies will non-tender Schierholtz. The club will find at least a center fielder in the coming weeks. That new center fielder will join Brown, Mayberry Jr., Nix and Ruf. If the Phils are confident in their new center fielder, plus Brown, Mayberry, Nix and Ruf, they could cut ties with Schierholtz to save money. Another thing to consider: Brown, Nix and Schierholtz hit left-handed.

Payroll summation

The Phillies have $135.2 million committed in salary to just 11 players next season: Cliff Lee ($25 million), Roy Halladay ($20 million), Ryan Howard ($20 million), Cole Hamels ($19.5 million), Chase Utley ($15 million), Jonathan Papelbon ($13 million), Jimmy Rollins ($11 million), Carlos Ruiz ($5 million), Kyle Kendrick ($4.5 million), Nix ($1.35 million) and Frandsen ($850,000). That does not leave them with much room to go crazy. They will have to be smart to fill the holes effectively.

Philadelphia Phillies