IT IS A STRANGE place, this side of the trade deadline. You look at the faces of the principal players and all you see is exhaustion. On winning teams, the kind the Phillies are accustomed to producing, the last week of July is a minor amusement, a sideshow that players leave to the devices of the front office and the media. Victories are the priority. At its most severe, the speculation is a conversation starter, a way to pass a few moments before the game. What's the latest? Who do they have going where? Then, back to the task at hand.
The Phillies are no longer a winning team. The speculation is no longer idle fodder. It is about lives being lived inside the clubhouse. Michael Young homered last night, finishing 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI to raise his battling line to a solid .279/.345/.411. His performance helped the Phillies snap an eight-game losing streak with a 7-3 win over the Giants. After it was over, he sat in an office chair in front of his locker and stared at the screen of a cell phone. Young's boss, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., spent the day attempting to trade him away. Good luck replicating that internal dialogue.
It's difficult to say," Young said prior to the game when asked if he thought he would still be a member of the Phillies after today's 4 p.m. deadline for trades that do not require players to first clear waivers. "I really don't know. I don't know."
As of 10:30 last night, those words held true for everybody involved in the process. Earlier in the day, a slew of reports suggested that the Phillies were engaged in serious conversations with the Red Sox about a trade for Cliff Lee, but that the Phillies were demanding blue-chip shortstop prospect Xander Bogaerts, which the Red Sox deemed a non-starter. Amaro did not make himself available to the local media, but went on air on the MLB Network and said that he did not view a Lee deal as likely.
An hour after the Phillies' win, reports began to surface of a Boston deal with the White Sox for veteran starter Jake Peavy. Clearly, that would nix any chance of Lee landing with the Red Sox.
Young also would fill a need for Boston, but the 36-year-old veteran has a complete no-trade clause, and all indications are that his preference is to play close to his Texas home. He would not be the first veteran to end up settling for a different contender rather than playing out the string for a team headed nowhere. But he also took time off earlier this summer to return to Texas, where his infant son was battling an illness.
"My family is a massive consideration in the decision-making process," Young said. "I'll just leave it at that."
Manager Charlie Manuel insisted yesterday that the Phillies' decision to call up 23-year-old third baseman Cody Asche did not mean the end of Young's days in the starting lineup. The Phillies want Darin Ruf to play leftfield, which would open up a spot at first base for Young if he remains with the team. Manuel opted not to start Asche last night against lefty Barry Zito, saying he wanted the young infielder to take a day to acclimate himself to his new surroundings. Asche ended up pinch-hitting for starter John Lannan. He popped out.
There is a chance that the Phillies are unable to execute a move of any consequence prior to today's deadline. That does not necessarily preclude a trade from happening in August, but it would force the player in question to pass through waivers, and Lee is no sure bet to make it through to the Phillies' trading partner without getting claimed. Last year, the Dodgers claimed him, but the Phillies never have given an indication that they were close to a deal. Closer Jonathan Papelbon would almost certainly go unclaimed, but his $13 million a year contract and diminished velocity appear to have scared teams off.
In the meantime, all players like Young can do is wait.