SAN DIEGO - Ryne Sandberg played in 15 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, and only three resulted in more wins than losses. The constant losing did not derail a Hall of Fame career. But now, as a manager, he is a man whose livelihood relies on winning.
If it was unsettling to hear Phillies interim president Pat Gillick predict a rebuilding process that could last at least two seasons, Sandberg on Tuesday showed no signs of apprehension. He spoke in his typical measured tone for 25 minutes. He clung to one adverb muttered by Gillick.
"Well," Sandberg said, "you know he said probably might not contend."
The Phillies will ask Sandberg to act as caretaker for a roster pocked with potential pitfalls. There could be veterans who face decreased playing time and young players who must be developed at the major-league level. He must appease sensitive personalities and eliminate the corrosive ones.
He would not be the first manager who succumbed to a rebuilding process before it bore fruit. Sandberg refused to acknowledge that possibility.
"I'd say after last year that this is the necessary thing to do is to get young and get more athletic," Sandberg said. "... I'm excited about that possibility of seeing that started."
He cited his six years as a minor-league manager as preparation for how to handle young players and foster development. But in the International League, he never had to supervise the phasing out of a $125 million player. The Phillies will attempt to trade Ryan Howard at all costs, but he could arrive for spring training as an immense distraction. It could be a litmus test for how Sandberg oversees a rebuild.
Last season, at times, it did not appear Sandberg and his boss, Ruben Amaro Jr., had the same plan for Howard's playing time.
"We're always on the same page," Amaro said.
Sandberg, asked about his intentions for Howard, said, "That's something that would have to be talked about and dealt with to see what the strategy is there."
Amaro said Howard's salary will not restrict Sandberg from platooning or benching the first baseman because "we're about building for the future and not for 2015." But in the same breath Amaro said, "Unless somebody unseats him or we feel he's slowing the progress down from somebody else, I would expect him to be playing quite a bit."
If the Phillies want to push younger players into the lineup, that could require Sandberg to prioritize the bigger picture over a single day's events.
"We're trying to build to win," Amaro said. "We're not going to throw games."
No, but what about reducing some veterans' playing time?
"It depends on who those roster guys are and, once again, it's about winning the game that day in a lot of regards," Sandberg said. "If we have a veteran player that is still the guy and still for the betterment of the lineup and the betterment of the team, I think that's the route you go."
And, Amaro added, "That expectation to win the game never ends." But the general manager said Sandberg will not be evaluated on wins and losses. Confused yet?
"The expectation becomes different," Amaro said. "If we don't have the type of talent on the field that we expect to be a contending team, we don't necessarily expect the manager to make that team a contending team. We expect the manager and the coaching staff to do the best they can to continue to develop those players and make them better. I think that's a fair ask of them."
Sandberg said he was "anxious" to see the roster changes. He expects them ... eventually.
"With the interest that seems to be out there," Sandberg said, "I think I'm optimistic."