Let’s go back all the way to 2011. Around that time, the Philadelphia Phillies were supposed to be at the height of their dominance. With a stacked starting rotation of which the league has never seen before, the World Series seemed to be theirs for the taking.
Instead, they were befallen by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. The sight of star first baseman Ryan Howard falling to the ground with a torn achilles provided the punctuation. Little did people know the punctuation was also in fact the proclamation that projected the inevitable end of the empire built on Broad Street.
Four years later and we are now at a place where Philly-lifer Jimmy Rollins has been shipped away to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of an offseason-long effort to rid the organization of heavy contracts that while still glows from the guild of recent past glory — still weighs down the future of possible Phillie prosperity. The Phillies were not able to unload Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley — thus, the rebuilding process has been postponed for at least another season.
However Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg doesn’t see this season as a rebuild year. A year in which hope is drained early and postponed for a unforeseen future.
“I don’t look at ‘rebuild,'” Sandberg told reporters on Wednesday at their Spring Training camp in Clearwater, Fla. “I look at, well, it’s transition. It’s where we’re at. I’m excited to see some young players. I think young players are needed in the game, mixed in there. I’m anxious to see some of the guys … continue to be Philadelphia Phillies and move forward as core players. So I don’t think rebuild is a mentality that I have. I think younger players have a chance of adjusting to new things and making that the new norm for Phillies baseball, and I’m looking forward to that.”
The Phillies showed their hand in the offseason but now Hamels has forced their hand to expedite the trading efforts. After an interview with Bob Nightingale of USA Today on Wednesday, he says he will waive his limited no-trade clause in order to be traded to a contender and wants it to be done as soon as possible.
In the interview, he stated that he obviously wants to win and he never expected the Phillies to fall into the dark place that they are now when he signed his six-year, $144 million contract in 2013. With injuries plaguing their top veteran players and the Washington Nationals rising to the exact same stature the Phillies were in 2011, contending for the postseason is no longer a reality.
“In the grand scheme of things,” Hamels said, “we have a very small window in our lives. You understand this is going to end. The Phillies will go on forever, but we know our careers are going to end. And I want to go to a place where I can win again.”
This is the one trade chip in Ruben Amaro’s possession. The Phillies general manager must get back prospects that can immediately bring contribution to the big league club and help turn their fortunes around. It can’t be like the times they were trading with Lee in the past.
When the Phillies acquired the former Cy Young Award winner from the Cleveland Indians in 2009, they sent them Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, and Jason Knapp. Only Carrasco remains as a reliever. A year later, the Phillies sent Lee to the Seattle Mariners for J. C. Ramírez, Phillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies. Aumont was an inconsequential piece in the bullpen, Ramírez made only 18 appearances as a reliever in 2013, and Gillies never reached the big leagues.
At least this time, Lee is consulting the all-knowing oracle known to mere mortals as the magical 8 ball for answers. Reporting to Spring Training? “Likely.” Lasting the whole season as a Phillie? “Very unlikely.”
Prospects can be tricky when it comes to acquiring the right ones. Not everyone can be like the Tampa Bay Rays who finds a suitable replacement in every trade. Even when trading Will Myers to the San Diego Padres made the trade for James Shields — who signed with the Padres this offseason — they also got Jake Ordorizzi, who has emerged as a strikeout thrower in the Rays’ rotation. Even the Miami Marlins, who do trades like this almost every full moon, miss out on prospects every now and then.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon is signed through this season with an option. He’s too costly to get much from him if the goal is also to not eat up any of the remaining salary. First baseman Ryan Howard has two years left and is practically the same situation. Second baseman Chase Utley is signed through this year, is the best and cheapest of the bunch, and has a couple years worth of vesting options to go with him.
That being said, none of those guys would command that what Hamels will in a trade. This is baseball’s version of purgatory. It is unlike a rebuilding year. That is hell. To “rebuild” is to begin the cleansing of one’s soul in the pits of Hades working their way back to the loving bosom of Mount Olympus.
Just like in 2006, this Phillies team all have a completely different face by the end of the season. Unlike 2006, the false hope of contention is nonexistent.