Amaro says Phils have championship lineup
General manager talks offense, injuries in state of address
PHILADELPHIA -- Ruben Amaro Jr., sounds like a man ready to retool, not make wholesale changes and start fresh.
The Phillies still have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, who put together a historic season in 2011. They still have Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, although Howard's ruptured left Achilles and Utley's waning production are concerns as the Phillies start preparing for 2012 earlier than expected.
Amaro said at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies have enough offense to win a World Series, despite the fact it has come up small the previous two postseasons, including a dramatic contrast in at-bats between themselves and the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series.
"It's a championship-caliber lineup with, I think, championship-caliber players," Amaro said. "I think we have to go about it differently. That's something I've talked to GG [hitting coach Greg Gross] and [manager Charlie Manuel] about. I think we need to have a different mindset and maybe a different approach offensively than maybe we had in '08 or '09. I don't think we have nearly as much power. We have to rely on better at-bats, being better with two strikes, being better situational hitters. Frankly, those are things we're going to have to change."
Getting the offense to improve its approach could prove difficult.
The players are who they are, right? Are they suddenly going to change lifelong habits after a talk or two with Manuel and Gross?
"We fail ourselves if we just accept this is who we are and that we're not going to try to get better," Amaro said. "Obviously, it's not working. It's not working enough to get us to the next level, which is to try to get to the World Series and win it."
Amaro spoke for roughly 25 minutes about the state of the Phillies, who finished the regular season with the best record in baseball with 102 victories, but fell short in the postseason. He has a slew of free agents to consider bringing back with Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Madson atop the list.
Rollins made it clear on Tuesday that he wants a five-year deal, or a four-year deal with a player option for a fifth season. Amaro only would say they want Rollins back. He said the same for Madson, who could command big money on the free-agent market as a closer. The Phillies prefer not to give pitchers more than three-year contracts, although they made an exception last season for Lee, who signed a five-year, $120 million contract.
Amaro would not say if the Phillies would go beyond three years for Madson, but said if Madson signs elsewhere the Phillies will look outside the organization for his replacement.
Free agents Roy Oswalt, Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge are unlikely to return, although nothing should be ruled out completely. The Phillies had no plans of bringing back J.C. Romero, but signed him to a one-year contract in late December. Amaro has spoken with Oswalt's agent Bob Garber. He said "we'll have to make a decision on that. It may be a tough one."
"I think we do have to try to get young if we can," Amaro said. "It's not easy to do. We did get a little younger with our staffs. At some point, we're going to have to get younger with our position players. It's a young game, and it's played by young players."
That would leave the Phillies with even more holes to fill.
Howard could miss a significant period of time following Achilles surgery. Amaro said he doesn't think his first baseman will miss half of the 2012 season as has been speculated and feared, but nobody will know until he has the surgery. Right now, they're waiting for swelling to subside and for Howard to get a second opinion.
"It's probably going to be at least four months," Amaro said.
Placido Polanco had surgery on Tuesday to repair two sports hernias, which could cost him the beginning of the season. Polanco has been on the disabled list in each of his first two seasons with the Phillies, which is why the Phils are expected to shore up the position in the offseason.
"I think we'll have to give him some support as far as third base is concerned," Amaro said. "I know Polly can be a very productive player, but he needs to be healthy to do it. And that's our biggest concern, getting him healthy."
Pence also had sports hernia surgery on Tuesday, although his prognosis seems to be better than Polanco's. Hamels is scheduled to have loose bodies removed from his left elbow this week, but Amaro said he will be ready for the beginning of Spring Training. In fact, he said Hamels will be throwing in a month.
If Ibanez does not return, Amaro said John Mayberry Jr., is a candidate to play in left field, although he called it an open competition. He said his preference is Domonic Brown play the entire 2012 season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, which would allow him to get more comfortable at the plate and in left field, which is a new position.
However many holes Amaro has to fill, he said he expects most of those to be filled through free agency rather than trades.
"But as you know I'm not opposed to [making trades]," he said.
It is unclear how much the Phillies will spend on payroll, but he expects the number to be near where it was this season: roughly $170 million. He should be able to inject some new life into the clubhouse with that kind of money, even if they bring back Rollins and Madson.
"Change is good," he said. "I don't think we need a whole lot of change. But just like with any other situation, we're going to have to change with all of the free agents. I don't think they're all going to be back, so there's change organically. But I think change is good. We'll have some changes."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.