Even as they try to win the National League wild card this season, Brett Myers and Jimmy Rollins are thinking about how the Phillies can become better next season.
Long before closing out the Phils' 8-5 win over Florida yesterday, Myers watched the first couple of innings in the video room behind the dugout. Rollins happened by, and the two started talking about the man the Phillies were in the process of roughing up - Marlins lefty Dontrelle Willis.
"We were trying to figure out why he was so erratic," Myers said. "Then we started talking about how we'd like to have him and what a force we could be."
Two years after finishing second for the NL Cy Young, Willis is a candidate for this year's Sigh Young.
The Phils pounded him for his 15th loss yesterday. He has just one win in his last 19 starts. His ERA is 5.27.
Who'd want a stiff like that?
Lots of teams.
There's a feeling around baseball that this might be the winter the money-conscious Marlins trade Willis, lest risk paying him about $9 million in arbitration.
You'd never get a Phillies front-office official to talk about potential interest in Willis - there are fines for tampering - but Rollins does not work in the front office.
When asked if he believed his buddy Willis would be traded, Rollins said, "I hope so. I hope we get him."
Rollins, 28, and Willis, 25, are both from Alameda, Calif., near Oakland, and were a few years apart at Encinal High School. Though they were never teammates, Willis remembers watching Rollins come in from shortstop to close out games with high heat.
Rollins has heard Willis might go on the trading block.
"I've asked him, and he says he wouldn't mind coming [to Philadelphia] if the situation presented itself," Rollins said.
Could the situation ever present itself? That's a legitimate question. Surely, the Phillies need starting pitching. They've had interest in Willis in the past and even dispatched a scout to watch him last season, when there were rumblings he was available.
There are some variables, though. First, the Marlins don't necessarily have to deal Willis, who won't be a free agent until after 2009, and might fetch a higher price if he can rebound next year. Second, some teams might have reservations about dealing for Willis after such a poor season. One of those teams might be the Phillies. The Marlins are looking for catching and outfield help. Shane Victorino has piqued their interest in the past, but it's difficult to envision the Phils moving Victorino when he could be their cheaper alternative to Aaron Rowand next season.
Making matters even more complex from a Phillies standpoint is this: Several scouts (and one Phillies hitter yesterday) have commented that Willis' velocity is down a notch, to the low 90s, this season. After being burned by Freddy Garcia, whose velocity was also down last season, would the Phillies dare give up value for Willis? Cold feet would certainly be understandable.
Willis insists he's healthy.
"I'm fine," he said.
"It's life," he added, explaining his difficult season.
One common explanation for Willis' struggles is that he does not have command of his fastball as he did when he won 22 games in 2005, and in his rookie of the year season of 2003, when the Marlins were world champs. Willis was known for painting the corners with his fastball. Now, he's often in the middle of the plate, where damage is done.
Willis has also struggled putting away hitters with two outs. He gave up seven two-out runs, including two homers, yesterday.
One other theory on Willis' struggles - and it's supported by Rollins - is that he's grown stale in Miami. The Marlins are in last place, and Willis no longer brings out the big crowds he once thrived on.
"Just going out with nothing to play for," Rollins said. "You lose your zip and some of your concentration. He's been to the top; sometimes it's hard when you're sitting at the bottom."
Willis sounded a little envious when he spoke about how the Phillies were "playing for something." He also did not shy away from questions about the Phillies and cozy Citizens Bank Park.
"It's a hitters' park," he said. "At the same time, you can pitch here and do well here. My confidence has always been good here.
"I can play anywhere," he added. "Whoever wants me."
What if the Phillies wanted him?
"I have friends over there," Willis said. "Jimmy loves it here and speaks highly of [Philadelphia]. It's passionate. They love the Phillies and there's nothing wrong with that.
"Whatever happens happens. I'm with Florida and until I hear otherwise, that's the place I want to be."
Willis might hear otherwise this winter.
Will the Phillies get in the hunt? Or will the events of 2007 (Willis' poor record and the Freddy Garcia debacle) keep them on the sidelines?