The Phils maintain they can get a good one, although their options have dwindled significantly during the Winter Meetings at the Opryland Resort & Convention Center. But Manuel covets someone to man center, because he knows the strength of his team is pitching and he needs somebody who can cover a lot of ground in the outfield.
"There are guys in the big leagues, if I had to point to the best ones, you'd go with [Michael] Bourn and [B.J.] Upton and [Denard] Span," Manuel said. "Guys that cover a lot of ground ... they have to have speed. They have to have first-step quickness, and they have to be able to cover a lot of old ground and know the situations in the game."
Upton was signed by the Braves. Span was traded to the Nationals.
Bourn? He remains a free agent and will not come cheap, considering Shane Victorino just signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.
"It's rare in baseball that you see someone that dominates at certain things," said Scott Boras, Bourn's agent. "You see it sometimes in catching, but Michael by far is the best defensive center fielder in the game. He's somebody that a lot of teams are obviously looking into. Then you add the fact that he scores 95 runs and hits leadoff and averages 40 stolen bases and has led the league in stolen bases many times. He's a franchise guy."
It was a bit surprising to hear Manuel say he would rather take a speedy center fielder over a right-handed-hitting corner outfielder with power, if he had to pick one over the other. Of course, Manuel really hopes he gets both. It would be a considerable risk to open the 2013 season with Domonic Brown in right field and some combination of Darin Ruf, John Mayberry Jr. and Laynce Nix in left field.
They need somebody else with a proven track record.
"I think we can definitely use some hitters," Manuel said. "Since we lost Pat Burrell and [Jayson] Werth, they would sit fifth and sixth in our lineup. They had .400 on-base percentages. Those were the guys that were always on base and allowed a seventh-hole hitter like [Pedro] Feliz to knock in 85 runs."
But if Manuel is frustrated or panicked at the seemingly glacial pace the Phillies seem to be moving at -- at least from the outside -- he did not express it publicly. In fact, he said he believes the names he has heard discussed in the Phils' suite could help him next season.
"Some of the names they're kicking around up there, yeah, it definitely could help us," Manuel said. "I know our organization, and I know that we're definitely going to put the best team we possibly can on the field and we're going to do everything we can to improve our team. I feel that way, and I feel, if it's not the perfect team, what's wrong with us going out and overachieving or whatever?
"I was watching the Giants last year going to the playoffs. They definitely weren't the favorite to win, and I see teams like the Yankees and the Tigers and Washington and those teams, they fall out, and all of a sudden, the Giants are sitting there and they play the best baseball and they execute the best, and they definitely deserve to win. A couple of years ago, we won 102 games and we got eliminated. What does that tell you? That tells you that anything can happen once you get into the playoffs, but at the same time, if you play right and things are going your way and the kind of baseball that I talk about playing, I think you've kind of always got a chance."
Manuel touched on other topics during his interview sessions with reporters:
If he is concerned about Carlos Ruiz's 25-game suspension for amphetamines: "It's always a concern. That right there is one of our starting players. Not only is he a tremendous catcher, a defensive player and he calls a good game, but last year he was one of our productive hitters, and he definitely balances out our lineup."
If he could be happy with Ruf as his right-handed power bat: "I think I'd be happy if he hits 40 homers like he did in the Minor Leagues. I think Ruf has hit his way to the big leagues. I think he's hit his way into getting a chance at the Major Leagues. There are a lot of guys that get there that didn't really do enough to get there, and I think Ruf is definitely one of those guys [who has]." Manuel said he thinks Ruf could hit 30 home runs next season, if he plays.
If the Phillies need a setup man: "I think we've got good young pitchers in the back of our bullpen. ... But we could definitely use a guy to pitch the eighth inning for us or definitely go into the eighth inning with [Antonio] Bastardo."
If he is bothered when people assume 2013 could be his last season as Phils manager: "I don't care about that. It doesn't bother me at all. Like when I first got that job -- I've been there now eight years, this is my ninth year -- I heard that for, I don't know, two, three years. Then like I heard that until we won, and then it quieted down some. And then every time you lose a game, you hear it again. It doesn't bother me. I guess I'm outgrowing that by now. It doesn't bother me."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.