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Pitching a priority as Phillies head to Winter Meetings

Pitching a priority as Phillies head to Winter Meetings

Pitching a priority as Phillies head to Winter Meetings play video for Pitching a priority as Phillies head to Winter Meetings

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies head to next week's Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., with Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd already in tow.

They still have plenty of work to do.

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General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said recently he still considers pitching a priority, so it stands to reason the Phillies will be looking to find some arms for the rotation and bullpen. Phils starters posted a 4.41 ERA last season, which ranked 14th in the National League. Philadelphia's relievers had a 4.13 ERA, which also ranked 14th.

"The pitching remains a priority for us," Amaro said. "If we can still improve the rotation and our bullpen, we will try to do that. We're still looking for ways to maybe improve, tweak our lineup. We're looking for more depth in the outfield, some athleticism. We're just trying to get ourselves so we can cover all the bases a little better than we did last year, when we had breakdowns in the infield and outfield. We had a lot of six-year free agents pitching in the rotation, so we're going to try and create some depth on the pitching side and in the field as well."

The Phillies have left-handers Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee atop the 2014 rotation. It makes sense right-hander Miguel Gonzalez will be there, too. The Phils signed him to a three-year, $12 million contract, so it is difficult to picture him opening the season in the bullpen or Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Right-hander Kyle Kendrick is a certainty for the rotation, despite his struggles and shoulder issues late last season.

If Philadelphia signs a starter, it is likely to be on a one- or two-year deal. Think of pitchers coming off injuries with something to prove, like right-hander Gavin Floyd, or pitchers for whom a long-term deal would make little sense, like Bartolo Colon.

The Phillies really would love to find next season's Scott Kazmir, who signed a Minor League deal with the Indians last winter and then went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts.

Those types of pitchers avoided the Phils the past few years because Philadelphia entered camp with five locks for the rotation. In 2011, it included Roy Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton. In 2012, it included Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Blanton and Vance Worley. In 2013, it included Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Kendrick and John Lannan.

That fifth spot might not be a lock entering camp this spring, which could make those fringe-type pitchers more interested in Philadelphia.

The Phillies have missed the mark signing free-agent relievers in recent years, so it might make more sense for them to look at low-risk, high-reward arms. That could include pitchers coming off injuries like Jesse Crain, Ryan Madson and Joel Hanrahan. Relievers like Edward Mujica could come at a steep price, which might not make sense considering they already have millions invested in Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams and a host of young pitchers coming up behind them like Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, B.J. Rosenberg and more.

Of course, these are the Winter Meetings, and trades can be made. If the Phillies plan to make a big improvement to the lineup, that appears to be the only way. Domonic Brown's name figures to be mentioned plenty in trade speculation next week. But it also is a way the Phils could improve the bullpen and rotation.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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