The Phillies convened Monday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park to board a bus for their chartered flight to Miami. They will spend 10 days on the road, and it is not unreasonable to wonder whether the roster bears a different resemblance when it returns home.
After another lost weekend, there is little doubt that Ruben Amaro Jr. will sell what pieces he can. The Phillies awoke Monday eight games out of first place in the National League East, their largest deficit of the season.
The general manager deemed last week's homestand as a determining factor in whether he would sell. The Phillies dropped six of eight to division rivals. They were handicapped by the same issues that plagued this franchise for two and a half seasons.
The trick, for Amaro, is to convert money into prospects. The Phillies have already sunk considerable dollars into a veteran roster, and team president David Montgomery indicated a willingness to assume those salary obligations in exchange for prospects. The Phillies could occupy an advantageous position in the trade market, which is saturated with demand and limited in supply. That is another aspect that could accelerate the process well before July 31.
Ownership is not interested in a complete rebuilding for fear of alienating fans. Montgomery, in comments to The Inquirer two weeks ago, said he foresees a way for the Phillies to maintain competitiveness while prioritizing the future. Montgomery admitted management must consider all scenarios; a trade of Chase Utley or Cole Hamels is not among the probable ones.
Amaro, who will accompany the team on the trip to Miami, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, did not return a request for comment Monday.
"We're not going to be in a five-year plan, be really bad for five years," Amaro told FoxSports.com. "I don't believe we're in the market to do that, and where we have to do that."
If Utley and Hamels are part of the present and the future, that makes Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, Kyle Kendrick and Antonio Bastardo possible trade chips. Jimmy Rollins has full no-trade rights.
The Phillies have not yet committed to a public return date for Lee, whose strained left elbow has sidelined him for six weeks. He will need at least one minor-league rehab start. Lee, still, can be traded in August as long as he clears waivers. He could be a consolation prize for a pitching-starved contender that does not land Tampa Bay's David Price.
Papelbon is the team's most obvious trade candidate. The Phillies have long attempted to deal their high-paid closer; they must eat a majority of the remaining $19.5 million on Papelbon's contract to make such a transaction. The 33-year-old righthander has a 1.39 ERA despite diminished velocity.
Both San Francisco and Detroit crave bullpen reinforcements. Those are veteran clubhouses that could handle Papelbon's demanding personality. From the Phillies' perspective, the emergence of Jake Diekman and Ken Giles provides internal ninth-inning replacements.
Byrd, 36, ranked seventh in the National League with 15 home runs through the weekend. He is owed at least $12 million through 2015. An attainable vesting option for 2016 could raise the guaranteed remainder to $20 million.
The Phillies will pay a chunk of that if a contender offers talent.
"We would much rather take the financial risk than the talent risk," Montgomery said. "That's where we find ourselves today."
Darin Ruf (fractured wrist) played in his first rehab game Monday for the Gulf Coast League Phillies. He was 0 for 5 as the designated hitter. . . . Minor-league outfielder Zach Collier cleared waivers and was outrighted to double-A Reading. The Phillies designated the 23-year-old Collier for assignment last week to clear space on the 40-man roster.