CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Dave Dombrowski is a baseball executive who plays things close to the vest. His mind works on dozens of trade ideas and potential free-agent signings but pinning down his intentions is difficult because he won't tip his hand to rivals.
Sniffing out his plan at this time of year requires the parsing of words, an eye for body language and a keen ear for inflection in his voice.
This winter's class of free-agent shortstops is dazzling and the Phillies need an upgrade at the position.
But listening to Dombrowski talk at MLB's general managers meetings leaves listeners with the impression that he doesn't intend to be a serious player in that market this winter.
Sure, he offered the standard "you never say never" caveat while discussing the subject Tuesday, but then he went right back to praising Bryson Stott.
"I've told him, 'You should come to spring training with the mindset of trying to win a spot with the big league club,'" Dombrowski said.
But, wait, Stott has only played 10 games and gotten 41 plate appearances above the Double A level.
"I've never been averse to jumping a guy from Double A to the big leagues," Dombrowski said. "I've done it many times and had good success. He's had some time (at Triple A) and has played well in the Arizona Fall League, so I am not averse."
Dombrowski has not promised new personnel at shortstop. He has merely said the team needs to be better at the position after Didi Gregorius struggled on both sides of the ball in 2021. Gregorius remains under contract at a robust $15.2 million in 2022. He's had surgery to clean out his balky right elbow. He's been put on notice and knows he needs to be better in 2022. He will not be handed his old job back.
"The best-case scenario is Didi comes to camp and he's the guy," Dombrowski said. "Last year was a tough year for him. I know he's a better player than that. The best-case scenario is he's the Didi we've known for years and he's your shortstop."
Stott, a 24-year-old UNLV product, will push Gregorius in camp.
"Now, I'm not saying it's going to happen," Dombrowski said. "There's no promises attached to him. But I want to make sure he comes in with the right mindset to go about it. Come in and try to win a job."
Stott was the Phillies' top pick in the 2019 draft and the club surely needs to hit on a first-rounder after seeing another one fade away without impacting the big club this week. (Outfielder Cornelius Randolph, said to have Tony Gwynn potential when the Phils picked him 10th overall in 2015, became a minor-league free agent earlier this week. He never reached the majors.) Stott played at three levels of the minors in 2021, hit .299 with 26 doubles, 16 homers and a .390 on-base percentage. He has continued to play well in the Arizona Fall League and, in fact, was named a league All-Star on Wednesday.
"He's a good-looking kid, a really good player," Dombrowski said. "I've had people in the Arizona Fall League tell me he's one of the best players there. He loves to play the game. He's a baseball rat. He knows how to play the game.
"He recognizes pitches very well out of the hand. Not only does he swing a nice (lefty) bat but he'll get walks, he has a high on-base percentage, he doesn't strike out that often. He's the type of guy that I think has a chance to be a winning big-league player. And when people ask, yeah, I do think he can play shortstop. He might not be an Ozzie Smith-type shortstop but he can play shortstop and play it well."
Stott can also play second and third.
But his ability to play shortstop is what's relevant to this winter's free-agent market. There are a host of top shortstops (Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, to name a handful) on the market, but with Stott inching closer to Philadelphia, and with gaping holes to fill in the outfield and in the bullpen, the Phils might spend their resources elsewhere. At least that's the vibe that Dave Dombrowski is giving off at this early stage of the offseason.