WASHINGTON - Marlon Byrd was between pregame workouts, sitting in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park late yesterday afternoon when his cellphone began to light up.
"Have you been traded?" "What's going on?" "Is this legit?"
Byrd worked his fingers feverishly in an attempt to figure out what the people on the other end of his phone were talking about. He hadn't heard a word from his boss, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
But his mind was still racing as he tried to uncover the truth.
"You always think about it," Byrd said on whether or not he was getting traded. "Shipping your car, where the other team's going to be - can you drive there? Can you get all your stuff where you're going?"
When baseball's non-waiver deadline arrived at 4 p.m., Byrd had not been traded. A.J. Burnett hadn't been traded either - he was running sprints along the outfield.
Antonio Bastardo stayed put, too. And Jonathan Papelbon and everyone else on the Phillies' roster.
For the second straight year, Amaro saw a team in desperate need of change but was unable to finalize any trades that would help improve it. He stood pat.
"Our goal all along was to try to improve the club," Amaro said, "and there really wasn't a deal to be made that would help us do that."
Instead, the team with the third-worst record in the National League took the field against the first-place Washington Nationals last night in last place, 12 1/2 games back, and with the same roster they've had for the first four months still in place.
If there was any team in baseball that screamed, "Seller!" it was the Phillies, with a bloated payroll, the third-highest in baseball on Opening Day, and a third straight October sitting out of the postseason upcoming. After losing 89 games a year ago, the Phillies are on pace to lose 90-plus games this season.
So there had to be at least some level of disappointment when Amaro - still on the phone talking through trade options in the last half hour before the deadline - was unable to consummate anything to improve the direction of his listless team.
"Not disappointed, more surprised that there wasn't more aggressive action from the other end," Amaro said. "We have some pretty good baseball players here."
Like Byrd, for instance?
Byrd's 20 home runs were tied for fourth in the National League. He has power from the righthand side and plays above-average defense in rightfield.
"I was surprised more teams weren't aggressive on a guy like that just because the fact of the matter is he's one of the most productive righthanded bats in the game right now," Amaro said. "So who knows?''
Byrd, like most of Amaro's trade chips, isn't young, however. He turns 37 later this month. And he's owed as much as $16 million after this season and he has a limited no-trade clause.
Byrd said the no-trade clause wouldn't have been an issue, but he was never approached by Amaro in the first place. And Amaro said money was not an an issue, either (read: The Phillies would have eaten some cash if they liked the return in prospects in a deal).
"Money wasn't going to be an impediment for us, it was trying to get the right baseball deal," Amaro said. "We weren't going to let money impede that. My feeling is if we had an opportunity to improve the club with the type of talent we wanted to get back, then we would have made a move."
So what exactly was the holdup? Plenty of teams were aggressive in the hours leading up to the deadline.
Boston traded away Jon Lester (to Oakland), Detroit traded for David Price (from Tampa) and the St. Louis Cardinals added two pitchers to their rotation in a 24-hour span (John Lackey and Justin Masterson). The Yankees added a pair of veteran infielders (Martin Prado and Steven Drew) and two lefthanded relievers found new homes, James Russell (Cubs to Braves) and Andrew Miller (Boston to Baltimore).
In the days leading up to yesterday, there were reports that Amaro and the Phillies were asking for too much in return for their players rumored to be on the block: Byrd, Burnett and Bastardo, among the most likely to be dealt.
"I would disagree with that," Amaro said. "It's not a scenario where we were asking for players that were their top prospects. We were not looking for exorbitant paybacks, so to speak, 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."
Is it possible, then, that Amaro overvalued his own trade chips? If the Phillies were willing to eat money and trade away veterans, why else wouldn't he have been able to make at least one trade?
"I don't think it's a matter of overrated," he said. "I think it's a matter of - in this day and age, I think one of the most over-coveted elements of baseball are prospects. 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 . . . When you have players who are actually performing at the major league level compared to players who are in the minor leagues . . . Prospects are another term for saying minor league players. They're minor league players. And until they're producing at the major league level, that's what they are."
But part of the Phillies' inability to turn over their veteran roster is because the organization is bereft of minor league players capable of playing in the big leagues.
When they needed to address an outfield that's been one of the least productive in baseball this season, they signed Grady Sizemore, a former All-Star who turns 32 tomorrow and hadn't played in a single major league game in any of the previous two seasons. If they need another pitcher in the coming months, Jason Marquis, who turns 36 later this month and has pitched for eight different major league teams, is on the short list of what manager Ryne Sandberg termed this week as a "thin" crop of arms in the upper levels of the minor leagues.
Perhaps teams knew the Phillies were an easy target because of that, and their place in the standings, and used that to their advantage.
"I've made it very, very clear that we didn't have any pressure to make deals," Amaro said. "Our goal was to try and make our club better. So if there's a deal to help us get there, we would've done it. There really wasn't a deal we felt comfortable with or a deal that we were going to acquire talent that was compensatory to the talent."
Amaro was optimistic, however, that he may have laid groundwork for a deal in the coming month.
Players that clear waivers can be dealt in August for contending teams still eager to bolster their rosters for a pennant race. The Phillies added three members of the 2008 championship team in August deals (Matt Stairs and Scott Eyre in 108, Jamie Moyer in '06) and traded away both Joe Blanton and Michael Young in August in the last two years.
Byrd, Burnett and Papelbon could still be moved. Cliff Lee, viewed as perhaps the biggest prize of the August trading period once upon a time, is likely headed for the disabled list instead of the trading block after injuring his left elbow 31 pitches into last night's game.
And so it goes for the Phillies.
They cannot trade players because of injuries, or no-trade clauses, or cumbersome contracts, or the declining skills of their aging players. At this rate, their best modus operandi might be to hit the free-agent market like madmen this winter.
"One of the benefits of what we did with the contract with Comcast was it gives us the ability to do that," Amaro said of the massive TV contract, consummated in January. "I've always had that support from [team president David Montgomery] and the ownership group. That's one of the benefits I think of being in our marketplace."