PHILADELPHIA -- It only seems like every free agent has been signed and every trade has been made before next week's Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Don't worry, there are still players available.
The Phillies have signed Marlon Byrd to play right field, re-signed Carlos Ruiz to catch and have acquired Brad Lincoln in a trade to add depth to a bullpen that used 21 pitchers last season. But they still need more pitching and could stand to improve the bench and maybe even find the holy grail general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. seeks: a big right-handed bat to drop into the middle of the lineup.
Some things are much more realistic than others.
"There's a lot of things we'll continue to pursue," Amaro said this week. "We have to try to be creative to make things happen. We've explored a couple of more aggressive things. And we'll continue to explore those. We've been in discussions with a lot of clubs."
Rotation: Phillies starters posted a 4.32 ERA last season, which ranked 14th in the National League. Injuries caused a ripple effect, pressing pitchers like Tyler Cloyd, Ethan Martin, Raul Valdes and Zach Miner into duty. The Phils need to improve their starting pitching depth, so they are not caught shorthanded again. And who will be in the starting rotation behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Miguel Gonzalez and Kyle Kendrick?
"We have to show a little bit of patience here to see how the rest of the starting-pitching market continues to develop," Amaro said. "Clearly some of the numbers you're seeing out there are pretty aggressive. At some point, we may benefit from multiples -- as opposed to signing one guy at a very high rate."
Bullpen: Phillies relievers also finished 14th in the league in ERA. It would help if the Phils could sign one or two of the relievers recently non-tendered or remaining on the free-agent market. It might make sense to take a shot at a pitcher coming off an injury, like Jesse Crain, Ryan Madson, Andrew Bailey or Joel Hanrahan.
Offense: Amaro has indicated he would like to upgrade the offense, although it almost certainly would involve a trade at this point. Failing that, Philadelphia could still upgrade its bench.
Who they can trade if necessary
Domonic Brown: Do not be surprised to hear his name circulated at the Winter Meetings -- because a young, inexpensive power bat is a valuable commodity. Why would the Phillies trade such a commodity? If it would help them land a right-handed power bat, they might consider it.
Jonathan Papelbon: The Phils tried to move him before the July 31 Trade Deadline, but they found no takers. They will explore the market for Papelbon again, although it is difficult to imagine it happening. He is owed $26 million over the next two years, and he has seen his velocity and strikeout numbers fall the past two seasons.
John Mayberry Jr.: He has some value as a right-handed bat with power, who can play all three outfield positions and first base. Perhaps Mayberry could land the Phillies a true backup center fielder, something they have lacked.
"Just because we tendered contracts to players doesn't mean those players are going to be with us on April 1," Amaro said.
Lee: Would the Phils really trade Lee again? It is unlikely, but he is the type of guy who could help them acquire a big bat. But trading Lee would weaken a rotation with enough question marks already. Beware.
Anybody on the roster: Amaro is going to keep his mind open as he heads to Florida. Every offer must be considered.
"We have some stability and we can go with what we've got, but that's not my M.O.," Amaro said. "That's not necessarily where we're going to be come April 1. There are lot of things that can happen on our bench. Even with the players that are on our roster right now, they aren't necessarily going to be the players on our roster April 1. Whether it's arbitration-eligible players or under-control players -- or even signed players -- there still can be a lot of movement."
MLB.com has left-hander Jesse Biddle, corner infielder Maikel Franco, shortstop Roman Quinn, shortstop J.P. Crawford and catcher Tommy Joseph as the organization's top five prospects. None are ranked in the overall top 50. The Phillies need to try to get younger, even as they try to win with their veteran core. Unless they are blown away, it is difficult to picture them trading Biddle, Franco or one of the other top prospects.
Rule 5 Draft
Philadelphia has selected players in the past like Shane Victorino, David Herndon and Michael Martinez. The Phil always seem to grab somebody, at least to give them a look in Spring Training, so the Rule 5 Draft is worth following next Thursday.
Big contracts they might unload
The Phillies still believe they can win next season, so they are not in a salary-dump mode. But if somebody came looking for one of their high-priced talents, they will listen.
The Phils have 11 players signed at $139.9 million: Lee ($25 million), Ryan Howard ($25 million), Hamels ($22.5 million), Chase Utley ($15 million), Papelbon ($13 million), Jimmy Rollins ($11 million), Ruiz ($8.5 million), Byrd ($8 million), Mike Adams ($7 million), Gonzalez ($4 million) and Kevin Frandsen ($900,000).
They also have four players eligible for salary arbitration: Kendrick, Antonio Bastardo, Mayberry and Ben Revere. The combined total of their arbitration contracts could push the payroll to about $152 million.
The Phillies have room to spend, but it seems unlikely they land a big free agent. Quite simply, they are hoping their current high-priced players stay healthy and produce after struggling the past two seasons.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com.