WASHINGTON - The four TVs in the visitors clubhouse at Nationals Park were black minutes before Thursday's trade deadline, to muffle the last rumors. Marlon Byrd retreated to a small room to digest video. A.J. Burnett and Jonathan Papelbon commandeered a table in an adjacent cafeteria to watch MLB Network as blockbuster deals without Phillies manifested.
This marked one of the busiest deadlines in baseball history; 37 players moved in 12 trades. When 4 p.m. passed without a Phillies transaction, it was not an indictment of Ruben Amaro Jr's inability to trade. Instead, it served as yet another damning commentary on the flawed roster the general manager constructed.
He blamed the rest of Major League Baseball, although it was Amaro who created this abyss. The momentous task that is rebuilding this franchise has never looked harder than it did Thursday when Amaro idled and Cliff Lee succumbed to another elbow injury.
"We were not looking for exorbitant paybacks," Amaro said. "We were looking for players that would help us, but I think we were very reasonable in the discussions that we had. Frankly, I don't think the clubs were aggressive enough for the talent we have on our club."
Amaro claimed he did not ask for "top prospects" in exchange for his older and expensive players. He insisted money was not an impediment to a trade. More chances for a trade will come in August, but the price is established.
The Phillies, a rival executive said, demanded too much. They wanted young players able to immediately contribute in the majors. That was a common refrain Thursday - Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington noted the unusual environment "where it was established guys for younger established guys." None of the top 50 prospects in Baseball America's midseason rankings were dealt. Still, trades were completed without Amaro's involvement.
"In this day and age, I think one of the most over-coveted elements of baseball are prospects," Amaro said. "I don't know how many prospects that have been dealt over the last several years have really come to bite people in the ass. I think what's happened is, I think teams are really kind of overvaluing in some regards."
Amaro quoted Mike Ondo, his director of professional scouting, as saying: "They're minor-league players. And until they're producing at the major-league level that's what they are. Prospects are prospects." But they are what the Phillies crave to execute a swift rebuild.
The best chip was Byrd, a 36-year-old outfielder with 20 homers and a good glove. The Yankees emerged as a late suitor but never gained traction. Amaro deemed him "one of the most productive righthanded bats in the game right now." Byrd entered Thursday with a .795 OPS, 29th among qualified righthanded hitters.
His contract included a vesting option for 2016 and a four-team no-trade clause, and that rendered him less desirable. "It's a good thing to be wanted," he said. But Byrd did not expect to be traded because chatter was quiet in recent days.
He advocated for his teammates to conduct serious self-evaluations.
"I know one thing this team has to do is be open for change, whatever it is, to get better," Byrd said. "I don't know what it is for guys. . . . You have to be dedicated and understand that sometimes there needs to be change in your game, in your lifestyle, wherever it is, to make you better as a player. I knew what I needed, and I did it. And it actually worked. We're creatures of habit, 35 or 36. You've done stuff in this game that has made you successful. Not having that success, we have to change."
The slog to Sept. 28, when another expensive failure concludes, will resemble the first four months. On Twitter, #FireRuben trended Thursday afternoon in Philadelphia. Amaro expects to be the boss in the winter; he is under contract through 2015. The dismissal of other front-office executives could afford Amaro another year.
"I believe a lot of pieces are here in places," manager Ryne Sandberg said.
"We have to start winning from the beginning," Byrd said. "It's not like the NL East is getting any worse."
"We're all in this thing together," said Papelbon, who begged for a trade. "It's not just Ruben, it's not just me - everyone is in this organization fighting and trying to win together."
Amaro said he was not guilty of overvaluing his own talent. Executives attempted to feast on Amaro's perceived need to consummate a trade. The Phillies have spent more than $400 million for a team that is 201-231 and has been outscored by 203 runs since the start of the 2012 season. There were no changes Thursday, when competitiveness felt more elusive than ever.