SAN DIEGO - Near the end of last season, Jimmy Rollins was asked how far he thought the Phillies were from returning to greatness. "I have no idea," Rollins said. "It could be next year." A reporter wondered why Rollins considered that possible.
"That's what's so great about being a ballplayer," Rollins responded. "We get to write that story. Always have. You put it on paper. You make it official. But we get to write it."
Rollins, last week, wrote his next chapter by surrendering the no-trade rights that, for 17 months prior, were an impediment to any deal. He will seek a second ring in Los Angeles, and no one can blame him for an attitude change. When Rollins spoke last September, the Phillies had not yet made public their desire to rebuild. That is what changed between then and now.
Interim president Pat Gillick's prediction that the Phillies will contend "somewhere around 2017 or 2018" and Rollins' decision make Chase Utley's words from last summer all the more interesting now.
"Last year, before we signed, I was told we were going to continue to try to contend," Utley said in Minneapolis, at the All-Star Game. "I feel like we've done that this year. We're not playing as well as we should. I guess we're going to have to see how the cards are dealt."
Utley, like Rollins, earned 10-and-5 no-trade rights. He has never shown a desire to leave Philadelphia, but neither did Rollins until lately. There are teams that need a second baseman - the Nationals, Yankees, Angels, Orioles, and Blue Jays, to name a few - and Amaro said there has been "plenty" of interest in his two middle infielders.
"Neither of them are eager to go anywhere," Amaro said Monday, days before agreeing to trade Rollins.
So an Utley trade is possible, albeit slim. The Phillies, rival executives say, are not aiming for an "Astros-like" teardown. Utley is an iconic figure in Philadelphia; trading both him and Rollins in one winter could be too much. Utley, though, could fetch a decent prospect or two.
But one scout said he is alarmed by Utley's 2014 season. Split it in half at July 1, and there are two different players. Utley slugged .450 in the first half and .362 in the second. Yes, his troublesome knees were healthy enough for him to play, but it was at a less-productive rate.
And he is expensive. Utley has $45 million in three vesting options tied to playing time. He could ask for the 2016 vesting option to be guaranteed at $15 million in exchange for waiving his no-trade rights.
But he is an ultracompetitive person, which could minimize everything else. Rollins shunned a rebuild this late in his career; Utley could follow.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez logged just 512/3 innings between the minor and major leagues last season, the first of a three-year, $12 million contract. He wants to start in 2015, and the Phillies will grant him that chance. It was logical for him to recoup lost time with some winter-ball starts. The Cuban righthander opted for another strategy.
"He wanted to prepare himself in the way that he knows to prepare himself for the season," Amaro said. "He was very adamant about wanting to be ready to start for us this year. He has a very specific program that he's utilized over the years in Cuba."
That involves the use of a personal trainer, which Gonzalez has retained in Florida. He will use the team's Clearwater facility once he begins a throwing program later this month.
Shoulder and elbow problems restricted Gonzalez from a full workload. Until he proves otherwise, there are real doubts about his ability to start games.
Amaro maintained it would not be awkward if Ryan Howard is not traded and comes to spring training with the Phillies. (Everyone knows otherwise.) He said Howard's playing time would depend on a variety of factors but that manager Ryne Sandberg could decide the first baseman's role.
Sandberg tried to implement a platoon with Darin Ruf last July, but that was nixed by the front office. Amaro insisted Howard's salary would not restrict Sandberg from reducing Howard's playing time next season. But is that not what happened in 2014?
"I don't think anybody really stepped up to take the job," Amaro said. "Ruf didn't do anything to own it."
Ruf, recalled from the minors on July 22, started at first base for three straight games from July 23 to 25 and went 2 for 8 with a double and three strikeouts. After that, he started eight of the season's final 59 games at first. The chances to "step up" were not ample.