Amaro doesn't seem convinced he couldn't move Rollins or Utley
As winter meetings begin, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. still thinks there could be interest in Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.
SAN DIEGO - Yesterday, the first day of baseball's winter meetings at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, the Phillies did not make a trade or free-agent transaction.
More than 2 months in, the organization's rebuild has been a slow, deliberate one. And it's easy to list the reasons.
Some players are very valuable, and it's right to wait for the best offer to come (Cole Hamels). Some will be easier to move when interest increases after other players are traded or free agents are signed (Marlon Byrd). And others are close to impossible to trade, no matter how much some might like to see them go (Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Howard).
But when asked about the current temperature of the process, and whether he thinks he'll get a decent return when the time does come to pull the trigger on a trade, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. curiously volunteered two players widely believed to be going nowhere this winter.
"I think we have the opportunity to have decent returns," Amaro began. "We have pretty good players. Everybody kind of thinks we don't have good players, but we have one of the best middle-of-the-infield players - again, those are 10-and-5 guys - but we had an outstanding rightfielder this year. Everybody is kind of in play."
The rightfielder is Byrd. But before bringing up Byrd, Amaro curiously mentioned Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. As players who have 10 years of service time and have spent at least the last 5 with their current team, both players have full no-trade clauses.
"That's a challenge," Amaro said.
Both Rollins and Utley have reiterated, in so many words, that they're not interested in playing elsewhere.
"Both of them would like to honor their contract and stay in Philadelphia, as far as I know," Amaro said yesterday.
Amaro went on to say both are "loyal guys" who "have established roots" in Philadelphia. And he's not wrong.
Rollins has spent half of his life in the Phillies organization; he was drafted and signed as a teenager in 1996. Utley was drafted 4 years later, as a 22-year-old out of UCLA.
Both have grown up on and off the field in Phillies uniforms: starting families and charitable endeavors, winning division titles and NL pennants and a World Series. Their ties to the organization and city are very strong.
But the Phillies undoubtedly are exploring all avenues in an attempt to begin a new chapter and find a new core. Rollins is a free agent after 2015; Utley has three $15 million vesting options on his contract after the coming season.
Neither player is playing at his peak - both will be 36 before Christmas - but they still bring value to positions on the field where offense is scarce. In 2014, both were in the top third of big-leaguers at their respective positions: Rollins' .717 OPS ranked sixth among major league shortstops in 2014, Utley's .746 OPS ranked sixth among second baseman.
Both continue to be sound defensive players - more Rollins than Utley - and both have invaluable experience as leaders on winning teams. Other than Hamels, they are easily the most attractive veterans on the roster; they could potentially bring back attractive pieces that could help fuel the Phillies' rebuild.
In an offseason that's been deathly quiet on Phillies rumors not relating to Hamels, Rollins' name has managed to pop up twice: first in a report that the New York Mets had asked about him last month; then about reported dialogue between the Phillies and Yankees that didn't go very far.
Even as Amaro says that "neither of them are eager to go anywhere," their names are out there, available to be discussed in trades. Amaro wouldn't go as far as saying he's talked with either recently about the viability of waiving their no-trade clauses.
"I'm not at liberty to say," Amaro said. "I've had dialogue with them earlier this offseason. They kind of know what direction we're trying to go."
With the regular season winding down, Rollins repeated the refrain he and his longtime doubleplay partner have said during the last two lost seasons in Philadelphia. He has no plans of going anywhere else, even if Amaro said, "Hey, Team X is interested in you. Any thoughts to waiving your no-trade clause?"
"They could also say, 'Guess who we're signing? We want you to be a part of this,' " Rollins countered in September.
But the Phillies are clearly not using their big-market dollars to buy themselves out of their current rut. They've already tried to do that, unsuccessfully.
Would either Rollins or Utley consider relocating back to his home state of California, where two prospective contenders, the Dodgers and Athletics, could each use upgrades at second base and shortstop?
Only Rollins and Utley know that answer. And it might be Amaro's job to ask those questions before long.
"Everybody is in play," Amaro said. "Every player on our roster is in play. Every player on our major league roster is in play."
Ruben Amaro Jr. said he had "no idea" if he'd make a trade before the end of the week - the winter meetings wrap on Thursday morning. But he did shoot down one widely held belief, which goes back to the trade deadline, that he has been asking for too much in return for his players. "That's a bunch of malarkey, as far as I'm concerned," Amaro said. "Frankly, we've done very little asking; we've done a lot of listening. That's why that strikes me as interesting that people would say that" . . . Starting pitching remains the Phillies' main target, seeking low-risk, high-reward veterans coming off injuries or off years. Amaro said there are "a couple guys" the team is targeting. Names that could fit the Phillies? Free agents Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson and Brett Anderson . . . Cliff Lee, who was recently checked out by team physician Michael Ciccotti, has been throwing for more than a week. "He's doing well, he's doing very well," Amaro said. "He's got no issues . . . I think he probably won't get on the mound until January" . . . Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn is one of 10 finalists for the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award, the highest achievement in baseball broadcasting. The 2015 recipient of the Frick Award will be announced tomorrow in San Diego. Along with Ashburn, the finalists are: Billy Berroa, Rene Cardenas, Dizzy Dean, Dick Enberg, Ernie Johnson Sr., Ralph Kiner, Ned Martin, Joe Nuxhall and Jack Quinlan.