WASHINGTON - Shortly after nothing happened, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. promised something was going to happen.
"I don't see a scenario right now where our roster is going to be the same roster in April that it is right now," Amaro said Thursday after baseball's non-waiver trade deadline expired without the Phillies making a single move. "It will change. It will need to change because we need to get better."
There are not many things you could get Phillies fans to agree with Amaro about during these dark days, but the idea that his last-place ball club needs to make changes is definitely one they'd be on board with. He would not like their recommended first order of business, but Amaro remained confident he will be the man in charge of reconfiguring the roster between now and the start of next season. He conceded, however, that team president David Montgomery has given him no such assurance.
If nothing else, the general manager has apparently convinced one of the veteran players he did not trade that the Phillies' commitment to winning sooner rather than later will remain intact whenever the promised roster changes start being made.
"I'm not stunned, no," closer Jonathan Papelbon said when asked about the team's stagnant state at the deadline. "I had a really great talk with Ruben about three or four days ago, and Ruben promised me that going forward we were still going to compete. No matter what it took to put a winning product on the field, he was going to do it. . . . He promised me that we were going to compete year after year and there's no rebuilding here with the Phillies."
Given the current state of the franchise, it sounded like a bunch of hollow promises. Amaro, however, got Papelbon to buy it, which was more than he was able to do in his trade talks with his fellow general managers. With the Phillies set to miss the postseason for a third straight year and unable to add any young talent at the trade deadline, the near future looks grim unless the general manager can make some radical moves in the next eight months.
It's possible, even probable, that the Phillies will make some moves between now and Aug. 31, the deadline for players to be traded and still be eligible for postseason play with their new teams. It wouldn't be shocking to see A.J. Burnett or Marlon Byrd dealt before the end of the month.
None of those moves would be as daring as what Boston general manager Ben Cherington did Thursday when he traded Jon Lester, the linchpin of his starting rotation, to Oakland for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and starting pitcher John Lackey to St. Louis for outfielder Allen Craig and pitcher Joe Kelly.
Regardless of what Amaro does in August, he will still be left with some unwanted baggage and a hefty payroll when the offseason mercifully arrives at the end of September.
Amaro, without promising a return to contention in 2015, believes there are ways it could happen.
"Is it possible? Yes," he said. "Whether or not we can get there, we'll see. Our job is to try to put us in position where we're contenders again. If we have to take a step back to move forward and get there, we'll see how it goes."
Money is the one thing the Phillies have on their side. Even with attendance down by more than 7,000 per game this season and expected to fall again in 2015, the Phillies will still have deeper pockets than most because of the 25-year deal worth $2.5 billion they signed with Comcast SportsNet in January. The deal officially kicks in during the 2016 season.
That should allow the Phillies to be more aggressive in places such as the international market. They worked out Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo, 27, earlier this week, and all the big boys, including the Yankees and Red Sox, figure to be in on the bidding, too. Perhaps Boston's interest waned a little with the deadline additions of Cespedes and Craig, but the Phillies, more than any other big-market team, need to make a move like this one.
"One of the benefits of what we did with the contract with Comcast was it gives us the ability to do that," Amaro said. "I've always had [financial] support from David and the ownership group. That's one of the benefits of being in our marketplace. We've been more aggressive in [the international market]. That may be part of it.
"I think we have the financial flexibility to be there and do those things, and we want to stay aggressive. It may be the only way to really separate yourself as far as being able to acquire talent because the draft is getting leaner and leaner. Signing international players out of the Dominican and Mexico and other places is becoming more and more challenging. So Cuba, Japan, other places, we have to stay aggressive there."
Money isn't everything, but it is one advantage the Phillies have over a lot of other teams, and you have to believe that Comcast, the company spending the bulk of it, wants a considerably better product to televise as soon as possible.