Do the Phillies have the money to sign Ubaldo Jimenez, Joe Smith and a good right-handed bat in the outfield?
-- Ephraim G., Betar, Israel
Wow, that is quite the shopping list. The Phillies already have $112.5 million committed to eight players next season: Cliff Lee ($25 million), Ryan Howard ($25 million), Cole Hamels ($22.5 million), Chase Utley ($15 million), Jonathan Papelbon ($13 million), Jimmy Rollins ($11 million), Mike Adams ($7 million) and Miguel Gonzalez ($4 million). That leaves $76.5 million before they hit the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, and we have not mentioned salaries for arbitration-eligible players like Ben Revere, Antonio Bastardo, Kyle Kendrick and Kevin Frandsen.
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But let's talk Jimenez, who had a bounceback season with the Indians. He probably cartwheeled 100 times when the Giants signed Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million deal. That could be a starting point for Jimenez, who preceded last year with two pretty mediocre seasons. Smith won't come cheaply, either. He could look for a something similar to Adams' two-year, $12 million deal.
But forget Jimenez and Smith for a second and replace their names with "Good Starting Pitcher" and "Good Relief Pitcher." Now throw "Good Right-Handed Bat in the Outfield" in there. That's a tall task for Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Phillies' front office. They have very little payroll flexibility right now. Getting those three players would make them even more inflexible. They might have to bargain shop to fill some holes.
Amaro has been talking about "getting creative" this offseason. Whether it's the bullpen, the rotation, or the lineup, what is your creative move for the Phillies?
-- Brian N., Richboro, Pa.
Asked about his future earlier this month, Rays ace David Price said, "If you go with what's been done in the past, I guess you're going to have to think you're going to get traded." If the Rays put Price on the market, he is going to be tremendously expensive. Frankly, I'm not sure the Phillies have the prospects to get him. But if I was to get "creative," I might try to acquire one of the best starting pitchers in the game to complement Hamels and Lee. It not only would give the Phillies one of the best rotations in the National League, it would help a shaky bullpen.
How are things lining up with keeping Carlos Ruiz? If the Phillies don't work out a deal with him, who are they looking at? Who is the frontrunner for the backup-catcher position?
-- Curt C., Chambersburg, Pa.
It still seems likely that Ruiz will be re-signed, because the Phillies are comfortable with him. But if the Phillies don't bring him back, they have other choices. Dioner Navarro makes some sense. He had an .856 OPS in 266 plate appearances this season with the Cubs, although he had just a .594 OPS over the previous four seasons. He might not be an everyday catcher, but the Phillies could pair him with somebody.
In terms of the backup position, it depends. If Ruiz is back, they could go with Cameron Rupp or Erik Kratz. If Ruiz leaves and they acquire a player such as Navarro, they could sign a more accomplished backup to split time.
What will it take to bench Ryan Howard against left-handed pitching?
-- Joe F., Philadelphia, Pa.
Howard has a .604 OPS against left-handers from 2011-13, which is 249th out of 269 qualifying hitters. Maybe some of that is his injured left leg. Maybe it isn't. We will find out next season. But right now, the Phillies need to give him a chance. They owe him $85 million over the next three seasons. They need him to succeed.
What qualities are the Phillies looking for in a pitching coach that were lacking in Rich Dubee?
-- Richard H., Charlottesville, Va.
The Phillies have not said, but this is simply what happens when a new manager is is hired. Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg likely wants his own people. Dubee took plenty of blame for the pitching staff's struggles this season, but Leo Mazzone didn't become a worse pitching coach when he left the Braves for the Orioles. He simply had inferior talent. The best thing for a new Phillies' pitching coach would be a more talented staff.
Is it worth it for the Phillies to trade their prospects for Giancarlo Stanton?
- Gary G., Great Falls, Mont.
Yes, but the Phillies might not have what the Marlins want.