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Amaro formulating plan for Phillies' future

GM acknowledges team's needs, but not ready to share specific ideas

ANAHEIM -- There are more questions than answers at this point. At least everybody seems to agree on that.

The Phillies open a three-game series Friday against the Giants at AT&T Park, and Philadelphia is in last place in the National League East with the sixth-worst record in baseball. The Phils have about six weeks to play, which gives them time to do what exactly? Implement their plan to get back into contention -- if not next season, then perhaps in 2016?

But is there a plan? The Phillies have spoken mostly in generalities about their desire to improve quickly, but they have offered few specifics about how they plan to do it. Of course, no team is going to divulge every secret, every free-agent target, every plan to reshape the organization from the bottom up, but Phils fans seek reassurance after three consecutive seasons of decline since a franchise-record 102 victories in 2011.

"Overall, the biggest plan is to make sure we improve offensively and with our pitching overall," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Wednesday afternoon at Angel Stadium. "You win baseball games with pitching and defense, but I think it's clear that we're not offensive enough a club. We haven't been performing offensively enough to be able to be a contending team right now.

"That combination of starting pitching and lack of offense, those areas of performance have not been good enough for us to contend. So those are two areas we need to address. For us it's a matter of doing it in a variety of ways. Just like in most situations, you have to look into a variety of ways to get to the solution."

But what about the way the Phillies do business, from amateur scouting to player development to pro scouting? Have the Phils discussed issues they might have at those levels?

"We have organizational meetings every year," Amaro said. "We'll have them again this year. We'll continue to do that. That's not really for anybody's business, whether they want to know about it or not."

Is there potential for change?

"That's not for anybody's business," Amaro said. "Listen, that's my job as a GM. Continue to assess what we can do better. And how we can improve. These are good challenges for us and good times for us to do that."

Fans have been puzzled recently at a perceived conflict between winning and personnel evaluation, although they don't necessarily have to be separate entities. Playing to win puts inexperienced players in big situations, which shows front-office officials how they handle those situations.

Of course, those inexperienced players have to play.

A few weeks ago, Ryne Sandberg clearly stated that he wanted to see players other than just Ryan Howard at first base, specifically somebody like Darin Ruf. But a few days later, when Amaro said he expected Howard to be his Opening Day first baseman in 2015, Sandberg scrapped his plan to evaluate Ruf at the position, and Howard has been playing nearly every day since.

Both Sandberg and Amaro said the manager was not ordered to play Howard regularly.

"Right now, we're trying to win as many games as possible," Amaro said. "At the same time, at some point, we're going to have to start looking to the future. And once we're 'eliminated' … listen, is it a long shot to get back into this Wild Card race? It is. Numerically it's not impossible, but right now obviously I'd be foolish to say it's something that's probable.

"And at some point, we may be looking more at what we have to do for 2015 as far as what's going on, on the field. But until then, we'll make the decision when it's the appropriate time, when it's time to start to looking to 2015 and beyond. We're not quite there yet."

The Cardinals are on pace to win the second NL Wild Card spot with 86 wins. The Phillies (53-68) would need to finish 33-8 (.805) to win 86 games.

The Phils don't have multiple high-level prospects champing at the bit for playing time in the big leagues. Ruf is 28. Domonic Brown is 26, with his hot first half of 2013 a distant memory. Triple-A third baseman Maikel Franco is a likely September callup, but other potential callups include Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp.

"There are only nine positions on the field, and we have several players that could still be in the mix for our club," Amaro said. "Part of it is being able to see them all, part of it we may not. We may have to go on faith. And the assessments we make as far as how they've performed this year and in the past, like I said, we've got questions we're not prepared to answer today. But I think the players themselves will help dictate how they perform and the opportunities that they get, and how they perform in those will help us make some determination with who we move forward with and who we don't."

Amaro said he believes he and Sandberg are on the same page. He also said he likes the job the manager has done, although Sandberg ruffled feathers with the way he handled Jimmy Rollins in Spring Training and Howard more recently, and he has drawn criticism with the way he has used players, along with some in-game decisions.

"Ryno was dealt kind of a difficult task," Amaro said. "When you have veteran guys and young guys and expectations are very high, and we had the kind of injuries and stuff that hurt our rotation in particular -- which was supposed to be a strength of ours -- it makes life difficult for him. I think he is trying his best to rotate the lineup and do some things that try to create wins for us.

"At some point, we'll get together to discuss when and if we get to the point to start looking to 2015, 2016 and beyond that. We'll get on the page and start talking about what it is that needs to be done as far as playing time and other stuff. But I think Ryno has done a good job. Just like anybody else in this situation, he's still learning the process.

"But I don't have any issue at all with how our veteran guys are playing. Particularly with the position we're in right now in last place and not in contention, these guys are still coming out and playing hard and doing their jobs."

So the Phillies will play out the string, trying to win, while also getting a gauge on the future. Amaro said the organization has a plan, but everybody will have to wait and see how it plays out.

"Everybody is entitled to their opinion," Amaro said. "A lot of people don't really know much about the inner workings of our organization unless they're working with us. They're entitled to have those opinions. We believe in the people that work with us. We know that we have to improve in certain areas, and we'll continue to try to do that. We have some questions to answer. It's a broader question than I'm able to answer completely, but we have a lot of questions that have to be worked on."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for

Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins