PHILADELPHIA -- General manager Matt Klentak's top priority this season has been to improve the Phillies' pitching.
Klentak believes he helped those efforts Wednesday when he claimed outfielder Peter Bourjos off waivers from the Cardinals. Bourjos has posted a .645 OPS over the past four seasons, but he is regarded as one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. Bourjos, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr could become a formidable defensive outfield, which should benefit a pitching staff that needs all the help it can get.
"I'd rather have both offense and defense, but I think the greater point is right: we're trying to augment the pitching, but a little more broadly trying to improve our run prevention," Klentak said in a conference call Thursday afternoon. "Having a strong defensive club is a way to help your pitching. Having the plus defenders we have in the outfield now I think will help our pitching. It may come at the cost of scoring fewer runs, but I think in the long run it will help us. We're trying to score more runs than our opponent, and it doesn't really matter if it's 2-1 or 10-9."
It will be interesting to see where everybody plays. Bourjos has only played center field in his career, and for good reason. According to FanGraphs, he has averaged a 16.1 Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 defensive games since his debut in 2010. That is third among outfielders with 3,500 or more defensive innings played in that span. Only Lorenzo Cain (19.0) and Jason Heyward (18.3) have a better average.
But Herrera established himself in center field last season, and the Phillies might not want to mess with the youngster's success. Still, Herrera or Bourjos could move to a corner spot. Bourjos told MLB.com on Wednesday that he is willing to play anywhere. He just wants to play.
"I'm looking at it as a nice problem to have," Klentak said. "That's what's going to make Spring Training fun, is we're going to have to sort that out, and we know that. I've had dialogue with [manager] Pete [Mackanin] about that question and how we're going to make it work. When we have at least three above average defensive outfielders, all of whom can play center field, I'm confident we can make it work.
"We will determine that in Spring Training. We don't have to make that decision on Dec. 3. Having players of this defensive caliber puts us in a strong position."
Klentak declined to specifically comment on Francoeur, but he said, "I will say with the claim of Bourjos, I wouldn't say that takes us out on any player. We're still going to be open-minded. We still have a few spots, and we're still trying to get better."
Klentak also said he has spoken with Ryan Howard, who is entering the final season of his contract. The Phillies have been trying for some time to move Howard, but without success.
"I have met with and spoken with Ryan Howard and had a good conversation," Klentak said. "He's excited and energized for next year, and I feel good about it."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.