NEW YORK - The slog to 4 p.m. Thursday is unrelenting. With every game, there is another Phillies trade asset who dilutes his trade value. A.J. Burnett, a 37-year-old righthander who is not integral to this franchise's future, flailed through five innings of a 7-1 loss to the Mets and permitted seven runs Monday night.
Ruben Amaro Jr. promised changes earlier this month, and now the general manager has less than three days until the deadline to enact said change. Such a movement appears rather difficult; the Phillies player with the best odds of landing elsewhere is lefthanded reliever Antonio Bastardo.
That will not restock a depleted pool of talent.
Instead, the Phillies are forced to endure moments like the latest drubbing at Citi Field. There is no hope for this roster as it is currently constructed. Amaro, who accompanied the team to New York, was not available for comment.
So his manager, Ryne Sandberg, had to deflect the constant trade chatter. He sensed it could be a problem for his clubhouse, which is why he addressed the deadline in a team meeting a week ago. That offered little solace.
The rumors hang over Sandberg's players. They could far outweigh the actual transactions that Amaro makes.
"It's hard to tell," Sandberg said. "Am I expecting any [trades]? I don't know one way or the other."
The Phillies have high demands for their players, who are devalued either by recent poor performances, partial no-trade clauses, or cumbersome contracts. Burnett qualifies for all three; his dismal night pushed his ERA to 4.15.
"It was a brutal effort," Burnett said. "I have to be better than that."
Bartolo Colon, 41, contained the Phillies despite allowing 10 hits in 72/3 innings. The Phillies scored two or fewer runs for the 40th time in 106 games. Only San Diego has more such failures. Ryan Howard went 0 for 5 and stranded eight runners on base. The hitter in front of him (Marlon Byrd) and the hitter two spots behind him (Carlos Ruiz) each accumulated four hits.
Burnett looked mortal from the start. He walked Curtis Granderson on 10 pitches for his first act. He fired 33 in all to record three outs, and the Mets held a 4-0 lead when the first inning concluded. They blasted Burnett for four hits - all hard - including two doubles. He elevated his fastball and his curveball.
Travis d'Arnaud, a former Phillies prospect, smashed Burnett's hanging curve for a three-run homer in the fifth. "I don't hang breaking balls," Burnett said. D'Arnaud lashed three extra-base hits in four at-bats.
Burnett could bolster someone's rotation, although a prohibitive and complicated contractual option for 2015 will diminish any return. Burnett, who contemplated retirement last winter, said he has not yet entertained those thoughts. If he assured a contending team he would forgo the lucrative 2015 option, that could foster a trade.
"I'm trying to go out and win ball games; that's all I'm worried about," Burnett said. "Next year will take care of itself after this year."
Byrd, perhaps the best available bat, collected four singles Monday. But two teams that crave an outfield upgrade - Seattle and Kansas City - appear on Byrd's four-team no-trade clause.
Amaro, hired for his expertise in negotiating contracts, awarded Byrd that no-trade clause plus an attainable vesting option for 2016, one that Byrd will want guaranteed in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause. Byrd played last season on a minor-league deal.
Sandberg's understanding is that any trade Amaro consummates will not occur until "very late in the process." He spoke against the front office's making change for change's sake.
"Well, I'd like to have the best players possible," Sandberg said. "It's about winning games. Whatever the combination is, I don't think change is for change. But if it's about improving the team and improving the team going forward for next year . . ."
That sounds novel.
BY THE NUMBERS
Innings pitched by A.J. Burnett