Approaching baseball's non-waiver trade deadline from the high road occupied by contenders is a lot different than climbing up to it from below. The better teams have good seasons in the balance, seasons that could be improved with the right additions, but those organizations are already winners and their general managers are comfortable in their office chairs.
That isn't the case for the teams that hold up the few attractive pieces of their rosters like rare produce from an otherwise fallow field, hoping desperately to get the seeds for a better harvest in return.
It is a matter of leverage, the pure physics of the game, and it is why the sellers are actually more desperate than the buyers. Good teams would like to get better. Bad teams must get better, or people will lose their jobs.
Even with those usual forces in play for most teams, the Phillies were in a unique situation at the Monday trade deadline. Their front office didn't create the hole from which the team appears to be slowly emerging and the top executives - team president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak - are still in the first stages of an organizational reboot that gives them the luxury of patience.
Certainly, there was nothing that could happen on Monday that would alter the basic nature of the current season, or the one that comes next. Heading into their brief homestand against the Giants, the Phils are on a pace for a 73-89 season that will need to be completely reversed before they are true contenders again.
The hope they could shake loose a top prospect for starter Jeremy Hellickson, their most marketable bit of produce, was a thin one at best. Some players can bring in a haul, which is what former GM Ruben Amaro got for Cole Hamels a year ago. Outfielder Nick Williams, catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitcher Jake Thompson are among the most anticipated prospects nearing major-league readiness. The Phils also got starter Jared Eickhoff in the deal and he has paid dividends for the big club already.
The problem, despite his solid season, is that Hellickson ain't Cole Hamels. He is capable of being a nice piece of a good rotation, but hardly a major component. On a team like Texas or Detroit, both of which are jostling for wild-card position with mediocre team ERAs, he appeared to be a reasonable fit, but not at the price of a can't-miss prospect.
Through the days leading up to the deadline, and the hours during which it was counted down, the Phillies stuck to that price, however. They were looking to deal for a player who equated to those found near the end of the first round of the draft, a guy expected to make the majors and, with luck, to do more than just that.
It was a no-lose position for the team. Keeping Hellickson or trading him could neither ruin the current season nor fix the next one. He's a great influence in the clubhouse and eats innings reliably. He's 29, but if the Phillies are ready to push toward contention in 2018, which is a possibility, Hellickson could still be part of it.
Barring that, if they make him a qualifying offer after this season and he turns it down, the Phils receive a compensatory pick slotted between the first and second rounds. If he accepts the offer, however, which will be between $16 million and $17 million, they have Hellickson and everything he provides for at least another season.
Leverage worked in other ways elsewhere. The Mets, desperate for offense today, traded away some tomorrows to get the NL's runs batted in leader in return, Cincinnati's Jay Bruce. The day before the deadline, Cleveland acquired all-star lefthander Andrew Miller from the Yankees for a strong group of prospects. It went that way around baseball. The A's sold and the Dodgers bought. The Twins sold and the Red Sox bought.
The Phillies left the store having done neither.
Maybe it wasn't exciting, but no less exciting than getting rid of Hellickson for two double-A players who would never turn into anything. If something like that was the choice, then MacPhail and Klentak did the right thing.
What they did, from a certain point of view, was believe in what has been done already. The Phils are on the rise, ever slowly, but on the rise. They are approaching that balancing point when it will make more sense to keep good major leaguers than to discard them in exchange for a blind draw from the deck.
Maybe that is what began on Monday. Not a reason to celebrate perhaps, but better than dealing out of desperation.