Byrd, Papelbon still Phillies

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Marlon Byrd says some veterans must be prepared to change.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Marlon Byrd says some veterans must be prepared to change.
Posted: August 01, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The finishing pieces still believe the team for which they chose to play is close to winning again.

The Phillies lavishly paid rightfielder Marlon Byrd and closer Jonathan Papelbon as they tried to complete a star-studded roster. They signed them because they expected to contend for a playoff spot.

Instead, when the non-waiver trade deadline passed at 4 p.m. yesterday, the Phillies had the third-worst record in the National League, stood 12 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East behind the host Nationals and 14 games below .500.

And, when the deadline passed, both Byrd and Papelbon remained in Phillies pinstripes . . . with every one of their teammates. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted that no team in the major leagues considered a single Phillie worthy of acquiring; not when factoring in age, injury, salary owed or talent level.

Not even for second-level prospects who might be 2 or 3 years from the majors.

The lack of movement was of no great concern for either Papelbon, a quirky 33-year-old who is owed at least $13 million in 2015 and, thanks to an option that is likely to vest, might be owed $13 million more in 2016.

Nor did it bother Byrd, a productive righthanded batter, who, at 36, is owed at least $8 million through next season. He said he would have waived his four-team no-trade clause to land in Seattle or Kansas City had they guaranteed his $8 million vesting option for 2016.

Both make too much money to bring even a decent handful of prospects.

Both also believe the Phillies have enough talent to contend, assuming attitudes are adjusted and the roster is tweaked.

Both are delusional.

But you can't blame them for sticking to their guns. Certainly, they believed the Phillies were viable when they decided to relocate to Philadelphia. Three straight non-winning seasons without a playoff berth have done little to shake that faith.

Both were signed to eye-opening contracts that other teams would not match. They were final pieces to what the Phillies believed was a nearly finished puzzle. Papelbon landed before the 2012 season, Byrd last winter. They have done their job.

Both remain willing to lead the way to the promised land.

As long as there are willing followers.

"One thing this team has to do is be open for change. Whatever it is, to get better. I don't know what it is for guys," said Byrd, who spent the winter of 2012 playing in Mexico after a lousy season and a positive PED test made him nearly untouchable.

"I had to go down there and learn to play the game again," Byrd said. "Sometimes you have to be dedicated and understand there has to be change in your game, in your lifestyle, or whatever it is, to make you better as a player.

"We're creatures of habit: 35, 36? You've done stuff in this game that's made you successful. When you're not having the success, you have to change."

Byrd didn't name names, but let's see: Which Phillies cornerstone player in his mid-30s is having a lousy run?

Chase Utley, 35, who made massive changes to his conditioning routine to salvage his knees, returned to All-Star form and remains a consistent contributor.

Jimmy Rollins is 35, but his .241 average and .322 on-base percentage before last night were typical of his last few seasons; his on-base percentage was 10 points higher a few weeks ago and he had hit seven home runs in that span. Still, he was not as productive as he had been before 2012.

And, of course, Ryan Howard remains the team's biggest bummer. Finally healthy after three seasons of injury issues, Howard, 34, has played so poorly - he's hitting .223 - that he essentially has become a platoon mate with Darin Ruf, a righthanded first baseman and outfielder who started against lefthander Gio Gonzalez last night.

Make no mistake: Howard, pre-injuries, was the most feared hitter in the league and, as such, was the biggest reason every big-name Phillie with a choice signed as a free agent or extended his contract. Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Papelbon figured a healthy Howard would help give them plenty of chances to win, and Rollins and Utley had benefitted from his presence for a decade.

And, while Papelbon earlier this year said he would not reject a chance to be traded to a contending team, he yesterday reversed fields, to a degree.

Amaro this weekend sat down with Papelbon to discuss the possibility of the closer being traded. Amaro assured Papelbon that the Phillies would spend money this offseason and make another push for the playoffs, and convinced Papelbon that the major pieces are in place.

"I think there is a reason why nobody got traded. I think Ruben has faith in the guys in this clubhouse," Papelbon said. "I think we have a phenomenal bullpen here in Philadelphia and I would like to be a part of that. Nothing wrong with being a part of a great bullpen."

Notably, that promising bullpen was the Phillies' biggest problem the first month of the season, and it could be a problem again.

Notably, Hamels and Lee, the centerpieces of the team, battled injuries and between them missed at least 15 of the maximum 68 or so starts they would have made. Lee left last night's game early, too. Perhaps they are wearing down.

Notably, 2013 All-Star outfielder Domonic Brown hasn't played like an All-Star in more than a calendar year.

Notably, there is another trade deadline at the end of August. Amaro said he expects to be plenty busy on the phone on the last day of this month, too . . . but there's not a lot of change that can happen in a few weeks to the profile of this Phillies roster.

More likely, the Phillies will pursue free-agent help on the mound and in the lineup during the offseason.

Mainly, though, the Phillies seem locked in to another season of hoping against hope.

"It's gonna be a long road," Byrd said.

At least that wasn't delusional.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch


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