LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The reports spread quickly Tuesday morning at the Winter Meetings.
The Phillies -- who spent $69 million in recent months to extend Chase Utley's contract, sign Marlon Byrd and re-sign Carlos Ruiz, and who have been searching for starting-pitching depth because they believe they can win next season -- were said to be listening to offers for Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, a pair of true aces and two of the only highly paid players who have been healthy and performed to expectations the past two years.
"I think they're silly," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said about the rumors, "but that's OK."
"I don't believe they are true," manager Ryne Sandberg said a few minutes earlier. "We're trying to add pitching."
If the Phillies are listening to offers for Hamels or Lee, Amaro would never confirm them. It would be bad business. But multiple teams need starting pitching, so it makes sense that the Phils would let other clubs know they will hear what those teams have to say.
Perhaps a team would make Philadelphia an offer it could not refuse. If not, the Phillies move on. No harm, no foul.
But Amaro stressed Tuesday afternoon that he believes the Phils can win in 2014, if everybody is healthy.
"We're built to win," he said. "I like our lineup. I'd like to add some pitching to it."
Trading Hamels or Lee would contradict those words, unless the Phillies received something truly remarkable in return. Sources indicated it is unlikely that they are shopping or even listening much on Hamels. He is owed $118.5 million over the next five years. Hamels also has a limited no-trade clause. Sources agreed the Phils would listen closely on Lee, who would be easier to trade. He is owed $62.5 million over the next three years. Lee has a no-trade clause, but the fact he is owed less money makes him more attractive.
The Phillies would unlikely eat salary to trade Hamels or Lee, but Amaro said they would in the right situation.
"We've done it before," Amaro said, referring to Jim Thome's trade to the White Sox in 2005. "If it makes us better."
That could come into play if Philadelphia can find somebody to take closer Jonathan Papelbon. He is owed $26 million the next two seasons, which could total $39 million if an option for 2016 automatically vests.
So reports about Hamels and Lee do not mean the Phils have suddenly changed course and decided to rebuild. That could happen later, like midseason.
"At some point, we may have to do that," Amaro said. "Not right now we're not. We're not there. … I think we've got a pretty good lineup, as it stands today. If we can improve on it, we'll try. But I like our lineup. We've been sitting here and discussing it internally. I like the balance in it. Is it older? Yes, it is. It doesn't necessarily mean it's worse just because it's older.
"We just have to get them healthier. If it's healthy, it's better than last year, clearly. We have to score more than 610 runs or whatever it was that we scored. That was awful. We have to score 700-plus runs to contend. I think the guys that are in the lineup, as it stands today, I think that they can do that. They're going to have to perform. And they're going to have to be healthy. And Ryne's going to have to work his magic. No pressure."
Sandberg also said he likes his lineup.
"The balance up and down the lineup could create some good at-bats and good opportunities for each hitter," he said. "We have the possibility of [Ben] Revere, [Jimmy] Rollins, Utley, [Ryan] Howard, Byrd, [Domonic] Brown, Ruiz, [Cody] Asche, just to name a few of the possibilities there that allows each hitter to just have their at-bats and not really have too much pressure on each guy when you have bats like that [in the lineup].
"You get two or three guys hot, that's ideal. When I look at those hitters, it could be any three of those guys at one time."
Everybody in the lineup staying healthy and being productive is a big if, but it comes back to starting pitching. Phillies starters finished 14th in ERA last season in the National League. They have just six starters on the 40-man roster: Hamels, Lee, Kyle Kendrick, Miguel Gonzalez, Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin, who seems destined for the bullpen.
That isn't a lot of depth there. That is why they need Hamels and Lee. That is why they are trying to add at least one more starter.
Amaro said they could add one decently priced starter, but two seems out of the question. However, the Phils could add a low-risk, high-reward starter, somebody coming back from an injury or a down year; somebody with something to prove.
"I think we have some flexibility to add," Amaro said. "A lot of it depends on what makes sense for us."
Payroll should be in the $165 million to $170 million range next season.
"We should be contending with this kind of payroll," Amaro said.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com.