NASHVILLE, Tenn. Ruben Amaro Jr. is not reluctant to use diversionary tactics when he's cooking something up on the Hot Stove. However, even the Phillies' deceptive general manager has some standards.
So when his mother starts texting him, outraged about a rumor alleging Cliff Lee was being discussed as trade bait to get Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, Amaro feels the need to clear the air.
"Arizona is not even one of Lee's trade teams," Amaro said, referring to the limited no-trade clause Lee has in his contract that restricts where he can be dealt. "I don't know where that would come from, but as you all well know there are a lot of false (rumors) out there. And that's absolutely one of them."
The rumor started with ESPN reporter Pedro Gomes using Twitter to announce that doozy, just minutes before Amaro's afternoon fireside chat with writers at the Opryland Hotel.
Amaro reiterated something he has said in the past few months: Roy Halladay's shaky health last season has made any serious investigation into trading Lee impossible.
"I think our best chances are to keep the core together," Amaro said. "Our best chance to win is to keep the core together and healthy. We probably won't move any of the core players on our club because I think it would just weaken us too much. I don't think we'd get the value that we would need if we moved any of those guys to make us a better club."
There were some preliminary trade discussions, and Amaro started movement on a few free agents.
Shane Victorino was not one of them; the Phillies' 2012 opening-day center fielder signed a three-year deal with the Boston Red Sox worth $37 million an eyebrow-raising number for a guy who struggled badly last season.
Although Amaro wouldn't discuss whether he had any contact with Scott Boras at the Winter Meetings, the high-profile, high-headache agent was a busy guy Tuesday, playing hardball with the Dodgers on Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu. But the Boras player in whom the Phils could be interested at the right price is Michael Bourn, and the former Phil finally started to see some action stir when Boras met with Seattle about the two-time Gold Glove center fielder.
Although Amaro was coy about Boras, Charlie Manuel certainly sounded like someone who would like to see the speedster covering ground for him and perhaps allow Jimmy Rollins to move out of the leadoff position in the batting order.
"I think (Rollins) likes (hitting leadoff)," said Manuel, who arrived in Nashville Tuesday, "but I think if we had someone like Michael Bourn (Rollins) would do what's best for our club if we decided that Bourn will be our leadoff hitter.
"If we batted Bourn second we'd have three left-handed hitters in a row. … I think (Rollins) will (accept a change) because he does recognize the team and what we want to do."
The big issue is what, exactly, Bourn will get when push comes to shove. B.J. Upton (five years, $75 million) seemed to get the contract most expected he would from the Braves, while Angel Pagan (four years, $40 million to stay in San Francisco) received a generous contract and Victorino's was even more generous.
Although the six-year, $100 million numbers being tossed around for Bourn during the season seems above reality, it wouldn't be a shock to see him get a deal that mirrors Upton's. Or even a little more generous, just to massage Boras' ego.
"We had a lot of really interesting discussions today with free agents and other clubs," Amaro said. "It was an encouraging day because there are some things out there that I like.
"It's pretty obvious (that) Michael is a good speed guy. He's a good leadoff guy. He scores runs. He's proven that he can hit at the top of the lineup."
Another Boras client probably had his ticket punched out of Boston by the Victorino signing, and that's Jacoby Ellsbury.
The outfielder had 32 home runs, 39 stolen bases and hit .321 in 2011, a massive season that resulted in him finishing second in the American League MVP voting.
But both last season and in 2010 he was ravaged by injuries and he never has put up numbers remotely close to those 2011 figures in any other season.
Reports are the Red Sox want starting pitching in a deal for Ellsbury. But how much, and of what quality? And Ellsbury becomes a free agent after 2013, and trying to figure out his contract value is almost impossible.
However, there are only so many choices out there.
Whether something happens before the Phillies pack up their cowboy boots and skip town Thursday afternoon is difficult to project.
"I guess it's possible, judging from some of the dialogue," Amaro said. "But just like in any other situation, there are ebbs and flows. One day you think you have a deal done, and 30 minutes later it's off. When you say, 'Are you close to something?' Close doesn't mean (anything)."