LAKEWOOD, N.J. -- There was no eight-person delegation from Philadelphia that flew to Los Angeles for the purposes of wooing Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees, armed with $175 million, sent their executives to persuade the Japanese pitcher while the Phillies stood on the periphery.
Ownership authorized Ruben Amaro Jr. to pursue Tanaka, and the Phillies general manager engaged the righthander's agent in cursory negotiations. International scouting director Sal Agostinelli and Pacific Rim scout Steve Cohen watched Tanaka pitch and filed reports that labeled him a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in the majors -- in other words, a perfect fit for this team.
The Phillies were willing to offer five years. Amaro was told it would take more.
"Knowing where we were, we just didn't feel like it was the right thing for us to do," Amaro said Wednesday at the single-A Lakewood BlueClaws' winter banquet. "I frankly thought someone would go even further as far as the years were concerned."
The Yankees went seven years and made Tanaka the fifth-highest-paid pitcher in baseball. Amaro, while not overly enthused by his starting pitchers not named Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee, is willing to play his current hand.
Top free-agent starters like Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo remain unsigned. The Phillies are at or near their self-imposed payroll limit for 2014. Amaro insinuated that his pursuit of Tanaka was an exception. The back of his current rotation is Kyle Kendrick, Roberto Hernandez and either Jonathan Pettibone or Miguel Gonzalez. Phillies starters, excluding Hamels and Lee, had a 5.40 ERA in 2013.
Prices for the available pitchers could drop as spring training nears, although Amaro cast doubt on that happening.
"The expectation is beyond what we think is the value of the player," he said. "It doesn't mean we haven't had discussions about it. They are options. The expectation is probably more than what we want to extend because of the length of those contracts."
The Phillies would prefer Gonzalez, their inexperienced $12 million Cuban import, to seize the spot. Gonzalez threw a bullpen session last week for new pitching coach Bob McClure in Clearwater, Fla. Amaro said there will be no restrictions on the righty in spring training; he will throw a normal Grapefruit League schedule.
"I'd like to have more depth in the middle," Amaro said. "If I knew more what Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez was, I would feel better about it. We think he has the potential to be that guy. It's not a slam dunk. We haven't seen him pitch. In some ways, we have to get lucky on that one."
Pettibone, the 23-year-old righty who made 18 starts as a rookie, is one benefactor. The Phillies have not held a true competition for a starter since 2009 when Chan Ho Park bested J.A. Happ, Carlos Carrasco and Kendrick. Manager Ryne Sandberg said veteran Chad Gaudin and 24-year-old prospect Ethan Martin are in the mix, although Amaro likes Gaudin as a swing man from the bullpen.
Inflammation in Pettibone's right biceps and rotator cuff sidelined him for the final two months of 2013. He threw bullpen sessions in October without pain and will fly to Florida on Friday to throw off a mound.
"Last year, they had five starters," Pettibone said. "My goal last year was to show them what I could do. Give them an image in the back of their minds in case something went wrong -- like it did -- and they knew what they had. This year, tides have turned and I'm going in competing for a job. It's going to be fun. I'm looking forward to it."
Tanaka was a pipe dream for the Phillies. Reality is harsher. "It's one of those situations," Sandberg said, "where someone needs to rise to the occasion."
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