TWO WEEKS ago, Ruben Amaro Jr. really wanted to believe he was a buyer and, in a division that's been unimpressive for the majority of the season, it wasn't completely crazy for the Phillies' general manager to hold onto that belief.
But after winning the first game after the All-Star break, the Phils have lost eight straight. Entering last night's games, they were 11 games behind Atlanta in the National League East and 9 1/2 games back in the wild card.
With tomorrow's 4 p.m. trade deadline looming, the Phillies are sellers whether Amaro likes it or not. There are a lot of popular names circulating through the rumor mill, so let's look at the likelihood of them leaving town within the next 2 days.
Chase Utley: 10 percent chance of being traded.
And, honestly, it's probably not even that high. Although Utley turns 35 in December and missed significant chunks of the 2011 and '12 seasons with chronic knee pain, the Phils reportedly are working to lock up the soon-to-be free agent to a new contract.
Amaro told the Daily News a month ago that he wanted Utley to be a "Phillie for life," and keeping that relationship intact may require a 2- or 3-year deal. While Utley has appeared to figure out how to manage his knee trouble, it's still a risk; then again, when he does play, he is productive.
Last month in this space, we used Carlos Beltran's 2-year, $26 million contract as a template for an Utley deal simply based on age and knee problems. If the Phils could get a deal like that finished before tomorrow, they'd probably be thrilled.
We leave the "10 percent" there simply because it's the only leverage the Phils have to secure a deal before the deadline. Utley obtains a full no-trade clause next month, when he becomes a 10/5 player (at least 10 years in the league, at least five with his current team).
But Utley, like Jimmy Rollins before him, would get a richer deal from the Phils than he would elsewhere even if he would become a free agent, so it probably would behoove him and his agent to strike a deal with the only major league team he's known.
Jimmy Rollins: 5 percent.
Rollins is already a 10/5 player, and thus, has a full no-trade. He doesn't want to go anywhere else; he's been with the Phillies organization since 1996, his wife is from here, they just had a baby last spring and he is eyeing several team records (he entered the 2013 season in the franchise's top five in hits, runs, total bases, stolen bases and games played, among other stats).
"Until those things are done," Rollins said of those franchise marks, "I'm not going anywhere."
We leave the 5 percent there in the event Rollins is simply overwhelmed by an unforeseen opportunity elsewhere.
Carlos Ruiz: 55 percent.
Like Utley, Ruiz is scheduled to become a free agent for the first time in his career this winter, and he also will turn 35 this offseason. Unlike Utley, Ruiz has not been a productive offensive player in 2013.
After hitting .303 with a .388 OBP from 2010-12, Ruiz enters tonight hitting .253 with a .301 OBP this season. He's also homerless and has just four extra-base hits in 46 games.
So why would another team want him? Ruiz has postseason experience, has shown the ability to hit in the clutch (.286/.410 career with runners in scoring position) and is very popular among pitchers for his game-calling and receiving skills.
Of course, those are also reasons the Phillies might want to bring him back for 2014, if Ruiz is open to a 1-year deal. The team doesn't have an obvious candidate to step in to the starting role next year: Erik Kratz has pop, but has also hit .237 with a .295 OBP in the last 2 years with the Phils, and prospect Tommy Joseph has taken a step backward with an injury-plagued season.
But if another team offers the Phils an attractive prospect, they definitely could bite and move Ruiz.
Michael Young: 90 percent.
Young turns 37 in October, and is a free agent after the season. The Phillies have two promising prospects at third base who aren't too far from the big leagues: Cody Asche (Triple A) and Maikel Franco (Double A).
There is no reason to hold on to Young, and contending teams would welcome his consistent bat and respected clubhouse presence.
Cliff Lee: 20 percent.
In a perfect world, Amaro would like to field a contending team next year with franchise centerpieces Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Utley and Rollins re-emerging as All-Star-caliber players. If that sounds like a longshot, it's an even greater longshot if Lee is not around.
The Phils realize it would be difficult to win without Lee; but with him, they've still been a losing team in the last 2 years (while paying him $46.5 million in those years).
If a contending team overwhelms them with an offer, the Phils will listen. But few sell-your-ace trades ever work out (look at the last three times Lee has been traded, or the Roy Halladay and CC Sabathia trades, too).
Trading Lee would also send a "rebuilding" message to the fan base, which would mean fewer people showing up at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies surely don't want that.
Jonathan Papelbon: 25 percent.
What's there to like about Papelbon, if you're a contending team?
Not his contract. He's owed a minimum of $26 million in the next 2 years and also has a vesting option for 2016. It was a pricey contract a year-and-a-half ago when it began and it looks even worse now.
Not his performance. Papelbon, who turns 33 in November, has pitched in 489 games in the last eight seasons and is showing signs of wearing down, with a decrease in velocity and strikeouts.
Papelbon also has a volatile personality, which doesn't work well when things are going bad, but which could improve and rejuvenate his performance with a change of scenery. Still, it's difficult to see someone taking on that contract, or the Phillies eating that contract.
The only, out-of-the-box scenario: If the Phils packaged Papelbon with someone else. For instance: if you want Lee, you have to take Papelbon, too.
Likely? No. But the Dodgers were ready and able to take on several pricey vets from the Red Sox last year, so it can't be completely ruled out.
The Dodgers-Red Sox blockbuster should remind you of something else, too: It went down after the July 31 deadline. Expensive players often clear waivers, and waiver deals can still take place in August.