NEW YORK - If Ruben Amaro Jr. was still on the fence about being a buyer or seller, then Trade Deadline Eve should have helped sway the thinking of the Phillies general manager.
Amaro's problem: No general manager in baseball history has ever been able to trade his entire team in one day, and club president David Montgomery and his silent partners probably are willing to eat some of those beefy contracts, but they'd never be willing to swallow the entire $180 million cow.
So instead, Amaro hopped on the team charter after the Phillies' latest embarrassing effort - a mind-numbing, 11-2 loss to the New York Mets at Citi Field - and headed for Washington, where this wretched season will continue Thursday night after the 4 p.m. non-waiver deadline has passed.
If anyone inside the losing clubhouse was worried about getting out of Philadelphia and last place in the National League East, it was not visibly or verbally apparent.
Cliff Lee, one of Amaro's potential trade chips, was scheduled to pitch Thursday, and that had not changed as the Phillies left New York - even though the churning rumor mill suggested the veteran lefthander might be attracting interest from the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers.
"I don't really care [about the trade talk]," Lee said, repeating his stance on the issue over the last two seasons. "I have no control over this thing. I'll be glad not to answer questions about it."
Actually, he might have to continue answering them, especially if he improves on his first two outings since returning earlier this month from the elbow injury that forced him to spend more than two months on the disabled list. Lee, who will turn 36 next month and is owed more than $45 million on a contract that runs through at least next season, definitely will be placed on waivers, which doesn't mean he will be traded but will keep the rumors churning through August.
"It will still be the same thing for me," Lee said.
He would help his trade value significantly with a series of quality starts, and manager Ryne Sandberg indicated that he expects Lee to be improved against the Nationals.
"His bullpen [session] was better than the last, so I would anticipate that," Sandberg said. "The ball was just coming out of his hand a little bit better and had a little bit more zip at home plate, which has been lacking."
This, as would be a trade, seemed to be news to Lee.
"Sure, yeah," Lee said when asked whether he had a better bullpen session.
Lee has been around long enough to know that a bullpen session does not mean squat if it is not followed by a strong effort on game night.
"Yeah, that," Lee said.
If you can believe everything you've read about the trade market - you can't, but it's fun to peruse the World Wide Web anyway - then Amaro is either asking too much for his aging stars of yesteryear or a lot of teams aren't willing to pay the high price in terms of players and dollars it takes to go all in on the postseason pursuit of gold.
Give Amaro and Montgomery this much: Before the Great Fall of the Phillies, they were willing to do what it took to get the players they needed at the trade deadline in an attempt to secure a second World Series title. They didn't win, but they tried hard.
One year the Phillies landed Lee, and the next year they got Roy Oswalt. Hunter Pence was brought in to fill the void in right field the year after that. The price was high and the Phillies are still paying for it in the form of a three-year hangover that has no foreseeable remedy.
Compare that to the Detroit Tigers, a team that has come close to winning the World Series four times since the turn of the century but never finished the job. The Tigers' glaring weakness has always been the bullpen in general and the closer in particular. Instead of opting for a more proven and more expensive closer such as Jonathan Papelbon, they made a deal for Joakim Soria.
Consider also the Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, and even the Oakland Athletics. They've all done a nice job of putting together good teams in small markets, but they will never be able to take on that high-salary player who could possibly put them over the top at the trade deadline.
If the Phillies ever get good again - they will eventually - they will be able to make that big deal at the trade deadline. For now, however, they are a team that can't win and desperately needs some new blood.
In the meantime?
"We'll continue to battle and to play; that becomes the goal at this point," Sandberg said. "Just trying to catch the teams in front of us."
It's like watching a cat trying to catch its own tail, but not nearly as entertaining.