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Amaro confident Phillies' core will produce in 2014

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies have spent the past several weeks tweaking a roster that lost 89 games last season, because they already had hundreds of millions of dollars committed to a core that includes Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels.

They simply have to hope those players -- most of whom are 34 or older -- stay healthy and produce throughout the entire 2014 season.

"We've committed to them," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. "We have to roll with them. I believe in these players. I know Ryne Sandberg does. I know our staff does. The proof will be in the pudding. If they don't play well, then we won't do well."

Amaro acknowledged it has been a tough sell.

"We've had great support with our fans," he said. "They've been very supportive of our players. But I think it's important for people to understand: Ryan Howard does still live. He exists. He's part of our club, OK? And he is one of the most important parts of our club. Guys like Ben Revere still exist. He does live. These are people who are on our club. So we have to hope they come and play to the level that we expect them to play."

The Phils announced Wednesday they had signed right-hander Roberto Hernandez to a one-year, $4.5 million contract, which includes $1.5 million in performance bonuses. He will be one of four starters in camp guaranteed a job, along with Hamels, Lee and right-hander Kyle Kendrick.

Amaro expects right-handers Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone, and possibly others, to compete for the No. 5 job.

"We're looking at some other possibilities, but I would say that the guys we have in house are probably the guys we'll go to Spring Training with," Amaro said. "It's possible that could change. We'll continue to see if there are ways we can add to it or improve. I think we may be looking at some guys, six-year free agents and those types of pitchers that can come in and compete for a job. I don't think we can necessarily lock down Pettibone or Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez as lock-down guys in our rotation. We'd like to add some depth in case they're not able to step up and do that."

Hernandez went 6-13 with a 4.89 ERA in 32 appearances (24 starts) last season with Tampa Bay. He started the season in the rotation before finishing in the bullpen because of ineffectivness. Hernandez has a 5.19 ERA over the past three seasons with the Indians (when he pitched as Fausto Carmona before being caught using false identification) and Rays.

"We're short pitching-wise," Amaro said. "We think Roberto Hernandez will help us. Our scouts, our analytics people, etc., looked at the middle-of-the-road, back-end starters, and we felt like he would be a good choice for us. He's pitched well in the National League. He's a ground-ball type of a guy. Hopefully he can pitch well for us."

Amaro pointed to Hernandez's career 3.69 ERA in 23 appearances (16 starts) against the NL and impressive ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio (2.41) and ground-ball percentage (70.6) as reasons to sign him.

Hernandez's signing brings the Phillies' 2014 payroll to about $143 million for 13 players, based on the average annual values of their deals. But with unsigned players eligible for salary arbitration, plus players with less than three years of service time, a defensive center fielder and a left-handed bat for the bench and benefits to players on the 40-man roster still to be added, it could push payroll to more than $165 million.

That 2014 luxury tax threshold is $189 million, but Amaro has indicated the payroll will remain in the $165 million to $170 million range. Why not spend more?

"It's about spending money wisely and spending it intelligently," Amaro said. "Why would you spend money not well spent? I think that's the important part. That's why with the way the market is set up right now, I'm not real comfortable with going the extra mile for some of the guys out there still that may improve us a little bit, but in the long run may be detrimental to us."

Amaro has heard the growing criticism of the Phils' offseason moves in recent weeks. Fans are frustrated.

"That's an occupational hazard," he said. "That's part of it. But our job is to put a winning team on the field, and the job of the coaching staff and players is to put us in a spot for contention. We came off two seasons that were -- what we felt -- were subpar seasons. We understand. I'm not happy about it. I'm embarrassed by it myself. But I do believe that we have players that can get back there. The prospects of health are very good right now. Can we rely on that? I don't know. But I feel optimistic that these guys will back on the field and Ryne will push the right buttons and we'll get back into contention."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for

Philadelphia Phillies