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Amaro: Phils' goal is 'to add, not to subtract'

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It took only a few hours Monday for the Domonic Brown speculation to begin.

There are multiple reports at the Winter Meetings that the Phillies are trying to trade Brown, their 26-year-old power-hitting corner outfielder. The Phils are searching for starting pitching, and trading Brown, who cannot become a free agent until 2017, would be one way to accomplish their goal.

"We don't comment on rumors," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said, doing his part to dampen the reports. "Domonic is part of what we're trying to do moving forward. He's a very good young player, and when you have people on your team that teams have interest in, you get rumors. That's part of the process.

"Our goal is to add, not to subtract."

But there is no argument the Phillies need starting pitching. The only three certainties for the 2014 rotation are Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick, and Kendrick had a 6.45 ERA and shoulder problems the final half of the 2013 season. Philadelphia signed Cuban defector Miguel Gonzalez to a three-year, $12 million contract this summer, but Amaro said Gonzalez is "not a slam dunk" to make the rotation. Gonzalez has not pitched competitively in some time, so at the moment, the only thing the Phils know is what their scouts have told them.

That leaves Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin, who might end up in the bullpen, as the only other starting pitchers on the 40-man roster. Triple-A left-hander Adam Morgan impressed last spring, but he had rotator cuff problems last season. Amaro said there is some long-term concern about Morgan's shoulder, but the organization is hopeful he is past it.

"He does have some rotator cuff changes," Amaro said. "We have to keep an eye on it."

Overall, the Phillies are perilously thin in the rotation. It hurt them last season as Tyler Cloyd, Zach Miner, Raul Valdes and Martin made 23 starts.

Free-agent right-hander Bronson Arroyo said Monday that Philladelphia has expressed interest in him. The Phils have discussed Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, although Amaro declined to say if they would pay the $20 million posting fee for the right to negotiate with him.

It seems unlikely that the Phillies will pursue Matt Garza or Ervin Santana. Amaro said they never made a run at Doug Fister, who the Tigers traded to the Nationals for infielder Steve Lombardozzi, left-hander Ian Krol and Minor League left-hander Robbie Ray, a trade that most everybody in baseball considers a win for Washington.

"I don't know if we can get that guy," Amaro said, asked if they can acquire a 200-inning starter before Spring Training. "But we're certainly looking to add depth to our rotation. Ideally it would be a No. 2 or 3, or whatever you want to call it. We are more focused on trying to add starting-pitching depth than anything else."

That might mean lesser quality starters, but more of them.

That could work if the Phils find a couple versions of last season's Scott Kazmir. The lefty signed a Minor League contract with the Indians, then went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts. He recently signed a two-year, $22 million contract with the A's.

"We're exploring a lot of different possibilities," Amaro said.

That is where trade speculation regarding Brown and closer Jonathan Papelbon enters the discussion.

The Phillies have been trying to trade Papelbon since July, so it should be no surprise his name has popped up in the past few days. He is owed $26 million over the next two seasons, plus he has a $13 million vesting option for 2016 based on games finished. It vests if Papelbon finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 games between the 2014-15 seasons. He has finished at least 53 games each of the past seven seasons.

The salary might not be such an issue, except Papelbon's velocity and strikeout rate have been dropping. Plus, he has expressed his unhappiness with the organization, which might be an issue in the clubhouse.

Amaro defended his $50 million closer.

"We don't comment on those reports," Amaro said. "He's our closer. He's still a very important part of what we are trying to do. … He's been a great influence on the younger guys in our 'pen. Some of the comments he's made, that's Papelbon Speak. He wants to win, just like the rest of those guys, like Hamels, Lee … I think I want to win, too. So does [Phillies manager] Ryne [Sandberg]."

Of course, should the Phillies trade Papelbon, who would be the closer? The Phils almost certainly would have to eat some of Papelbon's remaining salary, but it could allow them to sign somebody else to close. Failing that, they would have to look internally.

And there isn't much there.

Setup man Mike Adams is trying to come back following right shoulder and sports hernia surgeries. He could be ready by Opening Day, but that is not a lock. Amaro mentioned left-handers Antonio Bastardo, who served a 50-game suspension last season for using a performance-enhancing substance, and left-hander Jake Diekman. Amaro also mentioned right-handers Justin De Fratus and B.J. Rosenberg.

"If that's what we have to do, that's what we have to do," Amaro said, speculating on what might happen if Papelbon isn't in the bullpen. "But that's one of the things we're trying to do, too. We're trying to add a little bit of depth in the back end of our bullpen."

Trade Brown? Trade Papelbon? The Phillies are looking into both, but that does not mean either will happen.

Trades have to make sense for both teams involved.

"Trades are not easy to do," Amaro said. "There's a lot of moving parts to any trade. If there is a trade we can make -- or trades we can make -- that'll make our team better, we're not afraid of trying to pursue them."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for

Philadelphia Phillies, Domonic Brown, Jonathan Papelbon