At the end of last week, the Phillies were being portrayed as sellers at the July 31 trade deadline.

The vultures were lining up for Cliff Lee, the team's best starter so far this season, and Jonathan Papelbon, the closer who was considered a Porsche for a team that was on a 162-game ride to nowhere.

By the end of this week, you had to wonder who the Phillies could add to make that one last run with the core players who have celebrated so much success.

Regardless of which way the Phillies go at the deadline, difficult decisions lie ahead for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

They begin with the starting rotation.

Jonathan Pettibone and Tyler Cloyd started this season at triple-A Lehigh Valley, and even there they were probably behind at least Adam Morgan on the organizational depth chart. Circumstances, however, landed them both in the big leagues and they are a combined 5-3 with a 3.50 ERA in 14 starts. The team is 9-5 in their starts.

Cloyd, never considered much of a prospect because he relies more on guile than radar-gun readings, has gone six innings or more and allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of his five starts. Pettibone has allowed more than three runs just once in his nine starts.

Veterans Carlos Zambrano and John Lannan sit in waiting. Zambrano, by all accounts, has thrown the ball well since being signed to a minor-league contract. Lannan, after two strong starts and one horrific one, landed on the disabled list and has started a rehabilitation assignment.

Do the Phillies tell Cloyd and Pettibone they did a great job, then send them back to Lehigh Valley? Or do they stick with the kids and run the risk that Zambrano does for some other major-league team what Bartolo Colon has done in Oakland the last two years? If you think the Phillies were wrong for not giving Jason Grilli a chance two years ago, would they also be wrong for not going with Zambrano instead of Cloyd?

Would the Phillies be willing to deal Pettibone to bolster their offense? Cloyd, on the other hand, probably doesn't have much value because of his lack of velocity. Right or wrong, that's the way it is.

A similar decision looms at second base, if not in a month then at least at the end of the season.

Chase Utley is considered the heart and soul of the best era in Phillies history. He has, however, been an albatross because of his physical problems during the last three seasons and is a free agent at the end of this one.

It would be a daring move if Amaro tried to trade Utley next month, but no more daring than former general manager Pat Gillick's decision to deal Bobby Abreu at the 2006 deadline. It's true that Utley is a lead-by-example attribute whereas Abreu became the poster child for an underachieving team. What's most similar is that young players are ready to replace the second baseman just as Shane Victorino was ready to take over for Abreu.

Are the Phillies better with Utley or Freddy Galvis at second base at this stage of their careers? Is Cesar Hernandez ready to be the everyday second baseman or could the Phillies use him as a trade chip at the deadline? It was interesting watching Utley work with Hernandez on defensive skills last week knowing full well the kid could be Utley's ticket out of town.

You could make the case that the Phillies would do better to part with first baseman Ryan Howard, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, or third baseman Michael Young. Howard and Rollins, however, are almost impossible to move because of their contracts and current productivity. Young's age and lack of power make him unattractive.

If the Phillies are buyers rather than sellers, what should they be in the market for? Outfielders are the obvious answer, but the four best who are potential free agents after the season are Hunter Pence, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, and Carlos Beltran. The Phillies would love to have Ellsbury or Choo, but both are playing for contending teams.

One possible fit: Alex Rios of the Chicago White Sox.

He is 32 and will make $12.5 million each of the next two seasons with a $13.5 million option for 2015. The White Sox are a last-place team and do not have a better second-base prospect than either Hernandez or Galvis. That would be a good starting point for trade talks.