Phillies have a void to fill in center field

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. found time for a little hot stove humor before his daily winter meetings media briefing Monday. Upon arriving at the team’s Opryland Hotel suite a couple of minutes late, Amaro apologized to the assembled scribes for his tardiness.

"I had to dry my eyes because Angel is gone," Amaro said.

That’s a reference to Angel Pagan, who signed a four-year, $40 million contract with the San Francisco Giants on Monday. In the aftermath of B.J. Upton’s five-year, $75 million deal with Atlanta last week, the Phillies now have watched two potential center-field targets sign with other clubs.

"He’s off the market," Amaro said of Pagan. "We move on. We liked both players, but that’s part of the process."

The Phillies made it clear from the outset that they would explore lots of avenues in free agency, and several routes remain open. They can make a serious play for Michael Bourn, a true leadoff hitter who spent his first five professional seasons in the Philadelphia organization before being traded to Houston in 2007. Bourn’s price tag is likely to be high, but agent Scott Boras’ leverage appears to be dropping due to a recent sequence of events. Washington filled its center-field void by trading for Denard Span, and Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty has publicly downplayed the team's interest in Bourn.

The Phils could really make a splash and go for Josh Hamilton -- a move that fits with Amaro’s history of dropping stealth bombshells. But when Amaro was asked Monday whether he’s spoken with Hamilton or his agent, Mike Moye, he gave the same terse response.

"No," he told one of the team’s beat reporters. "But I wouldn’t tell you if I did."

The Phillies also could bring back Shane Victorino, but the consensus in baseball circles is that a return engagement isn’t likely. Victorino was a popular player during his first run in Philadelphia and a key member of the team’s 2008 world championship club. But sources said the Phils are more inclined to go in a different direction this time around.

At the moment, the Phillies’ outfield consists of Domonic Brown in right field, John Mayberry Jr. in center and Darin Ruf in left, so the only certainty is that Amaro will do something. He has a hole to fill at third base along with multiple vacancies in the outfield, and the prospect of a Freddy Galvis-Kevin Frandsen platoon isn’t going to do much for season-ticket sales.

"This offseason we’re going to have to be as creative as we can possibly be to make our team better," Amaro said, "even if it means having two or three platoons or improving in other areas. We’re going to have to be as creative as possible, because the market is not a great market."

The Phillies had enough of a need in center field for Amaro to engage on Upton and Pagan, but he wasn’t sold enough on either player to go beyond his comfort level price-wise. A month into free-agent season, Philadelphia's general manager still has money in his pocket. He also has a lot of work to do.