KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The idea of the Phillies' front office "jumping ship," as Jonathan Papelbon called it during this week's All-Star Game festivities, is something he says his teammates would not endorse.
"In my opinion," Papelbon said, "I wouldn't want to be in any other clubhouse to try to get out of this."
Yet that clubhouse could look quite different in a matter of weeks. A season on the brink resumes Friday in Colorado, and the Phillies will play 15 games before the July 31 trade deadline.
They are 14 games out of first place.
At the All-Star Game, the focus was on Cole Hamels, subject of trade rumors and appeals from the game's stars as to why the lanky lefthander should join their teams.
Just as complicated, and perhaps more pertinent in the coming weeks, is Ruben Amaro Jr.'s outfield plight. The general manager's decisions could have wide-ranging effects on not only 2012, but well beyond.
Shane Victorino is a free agent. Hunter Pence has one year of arbitration remaining. Left field is manned by Juan Pierre, who signed a minor-league contract, and John Mayberry Jr., who has done little to dispel the notion that he is anything more than a platoon player.
There are innumerable options and no clear way to proceed.
Victorino's career-worst season, so far, has muddied matters even further. Had he equaled last season, when he displayed gap power and mashed extra-base hits more frequently than any other Phillies batter, he would have almost certainly found a richer deal elsewhere this winter. Now? Maybe the Phillies could explore retaining Victorino with a shorter-term offer.
Even before his recent benching by manager Charlie Manuel, Victorino's name had naturally surfaced in trade rumors. As a rental player in a down year, it's difficult to see him fetching much of significant value in a trade.
That's what makes Pence's situation intriguing. He is under team control for 2013 and will make close to $15 million through the arbitration process. A year ago, when Houston dealt him to Philadelphia, the Astros received three quality prospects in return. His value would not be as high with one less year of control, but he might have the most of any Phillies trade chip - even Hamels. Maybe he could land a major-league-ready third baseman or outfielder.
Amaro, of course, is in a delicate position. Ultimately, his decision could come to this: Does he expect to eventually offer Pence a long-term deal? Pence turns 30 next April, is having a fine season, and would likely demand superstar money. Manuel has often bemoaned how Pence is effectively uncoachable because of his unorthodox methods.
If Amaro is torn on keeping Pence long-term, it would make sense to deal Pence now because his value will only decrease every day after July 31.
Then again, that could leave three holes in the Phillies outfield for 2013 if Victorino finds a lucrative offer on the market. This is where the Domonic Brown situation haunts the Phillies. Ideally, he would be there to step into a regular role. Questions linger about his viability as an everyday major-leaguer.
Brown has not played at triple-A Lehigh Valley in nearly a month because of a knee injury. He could return this week after hitting four doubles in two games for the Gulf Coast League Phillies.
Before his injury, Brown's bat was showing signs of life.
"He needs to play," Amaro said last week. "He was going pretty good when he got hurt. He started to swing the bat pretty good, played some pretty good defense, and was starting to do the things that we were hoping would happen. He's got to keep playing."
Could Amaro sell high on Pence, bank on Brown, and toy with keeping Victorino? It's only one scenario. The GM could easily decide moving Pence is too risky given his internal options.
He does have the luxury of a favorable outfield market this winter, too. In addition to Victorino, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Nick Swisher, Carlos Quentin, Cody Ross, and Delmon Young are all free agents.
Bourn, a former Phillie, will turn 30 in December and is represented by Scott Boras. He is having a career season with Atlanta and will look to cash in with a megadeal. He remains close with many current Phillies and hugged Amaro last week when the Braves were in town.
Whatever the case, it's nearsighted to focus only on Hamels' situation as the deadline nears. The outfield's future is just as murky.