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Phillies have decisions to make heading into '15

Offensive upgrades, addressing positional logjams at forefront for GM Amaro

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Phillies have decisions to make heading into '15 play video for Phillies have decisions to make heading into '15

PHILADELPHIA -- Everybody wants to know if the Phillies have a plan for the future. They say that they do.

But general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is keeping quiet about it. He acknowledged last week in Anaheim that the Phils need to improve their offense and rotation, but he said little when asked if there could be changes coming in the player-development and amateur and pro scouting departments. But it looks like Amaro will be making those decisions. Team president David Montgomery told a fan group this week at Citizens Bank Park that Amaro is "not on the hot seat," so unless that changes, he will get another chance to turn around the team's sagging fortunes.

"Everybody is entitled to their opinion," Amaro said about criticism directed at the Phillies' front office. "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."

One part of the recent fan frustration comes from mixed messages from the front office and manager's office.

Phils manager Ryne Sandberg said last month he wants to see other players at first base, but Ryan Howard continues to play there almost every day. Sandberg repeatedly said the organization needs to learn more about Darin Ruf, but he has only played him sporadically. Grady Sizemore has a history of injuries and is a free agent following the season, but he has played fairly regularly.

The Phillies talk about change, yet there has been little change on the field.

But sources over the past couple of weeks have helped piece together the Phils' thinking in regards to some of these situations.

Amaro said a few weeks ago he expects Howard to be his Opening Day first baseman in 2015, which might be the case. But if the Phillies have any chance of trading him to an American League team in the offseason, they also know he must play.

Howard is owed a total of $60 million following this season. Nobody is going to take Howard at his current salary. Everybody knows that. But if Philadelphia agrees to pay a significant portion of it ($50 million, for example), an AL team might listen.

The Phils could sell the fact that Howard finished among the NL leaders in RBIs. He currently is tied for fourth with 77 and is on pace for 98. Of course, Howard entered Wednesday with more runners on base than any other hitter in baseball, so those RBI numbers are a bit deceiving. But at $5 million per year for two years, maybe an AL team would think Howard is worth a shot as a No. 5 or 6 hitter as their designated hitter.

But what about Ruf, Sizemore and Domonic Brown? The Phillies find themselves in a logjam with Howard playing daily at first base. Marlon Byrd could be traded in the offseason, so he will continue to play every day to keep up his value. Ben Revere is hitting well, and the Phils would like to know if the hitter they have seen since late June is the hitter they can expect to see in the future.

That leaves three players for one position.

Despite the fact Sandberg said they don't know much about Ruf, the organization feels it does. It thinks he could be a platoon player in the future -- other teams feel the same -- but it also is juggling to see if it can get anything at all from Brown, who is on pace to have the lowest OPS of any qualifying left fielder since 2002, while continuing to evaluate Sizemore.

The Phillies could bring back Sizemore, but that's far from a sure thing. There could be a situation where the Phils trade Brown and enter next season with Sizemore and Ruf in a platoon in left field. But they stand no chance of bringing back Sizemore if they bench him the rest of the season.

The Phillies know their offense is not good enough. Chase Utley and Howard have hit third and fourth this season, but they would fit better elsewhere in the lineup. But good luck finding a No. 3 or 4 hitter in the offseason.

Offense is at a premium, which is why Philadelphia is considering international free agents. Multiple sources said recently the Phils will take a run at Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, although they are not expected to sign him.

Keep an eye on Cuban outfielder Yasmani Tomas. The 23-year-old has big-time power and could fit into the Phillies' lineup. He could hit the market in the next couple of months. Yozzen Cuesta is a corner infielder, which would require the Phils to shuffle several pieces if they planned to pursue him.

Triple-A corner infielder Maikel Franco is ready for his callup. It might come in September. If not, he could figure into next season's Opening Day roster, either at first or third. The Phillies like third baseman Cody Asche, but they have considered moving him to left field.

There are a lot of moving pieces and plenty of possibilities, but the Phils are choosing not to tip their hand. One thing is certain: they need to make significant upgrades offensively. If not, it could be a very long 2015.

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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