SAN DIEGO - A year ago, the Phillies arrived at the winter meetings with the news that Roy Halladay was retiring. Before leaving town, they signed Roberto Hernandez to replace him in the starting rotation. Other than the Rule 5 draft, it was the only roster activity during their 4-day stay in Orlando, Fla.
Ruben Amaro Jr. arrived at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego this week ready to have a more active stay at the meetings, on the condition he could find another general manager ready to do business.
According to foxsports.com, Amaro might have found someone ready to deal: The Phillies' brass met with its counterparts from the Baltimore Orioles yesterday about a trade involving Marlon Byrd. The interest on both sides makes sense: Byrd, who turns 38 this summer, is of little use to a rebuilding Phillies team. But his still-useful righthanded power bat is appealing to a contending team that has lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis this offseason.
"We have made some headway on some things, but until we can make an announcement I can't really say," Amaro said of whether he was close on anything late yesterday afternoon. "We've had good dialogue, we just haven't gotten to the finish line on anything yet."
Until they cross that line and officially begin the rebuilding process, an anxious and agitated Phillies fan base waits. As does the manager waiting to see exactly what he'll have to work with when spring training gets underway in 2 months.
Before Amaro's daily briefing with the press, Ryne Sandberg made his own media rounds for the first time this winter. Sandberg is also eager to see just how much Amaro and Co. can accomplish in the coming weeks.
But Sandberg is also optimistic that the team's goals - to sell off multiple veterans in an effort to infuse the roster with much-needed younger talent - will be fulfilled between the last few days of the winter meetings and when he arrives in Clearwater, Fla.
"I think I'd be a little bit surprised, just based on a lot of the conversations that Ruben is having with clubs about our players," Sandberg said of the potential scenario of arriving to Bright House Field in February greeted with the same faces he left in September.
Although most managers can't get too excited about overseeing a team in rebuilding mode - they are still paid to win games, and when they don't win, they are usually fired - Sandberg is completely on board with the front office's new direction. Two months ago, acting team president Pat Gillick admitted the Phils likely wouldn't contend in the next couple of seasons.
"He said 'probably might not contend,' " Sandberg said. "But there is a process there, and there is a way to build it to where we all want it to be, and you have to start somewhere. Like the bullpen last year was young players that had to prove something. They had energy and youth on their side and they were successful. To have that a little bit more on the field on a regular basis, and to get that process started building a new core group, I think that's necessary."
Part of the process will eventually be seeing where all the pieces fit. With three corner infielders who could benefit from regular playing time in 2015 - Maikel Franco, Cody Asche and Darin Ruf - Sandberg said that Asche, the team's regular third baseman last year, will likely see time at first base and leftfield. There has been some debate of also playing him at second base, a position he played when he first joined the organization three summers ago.
All three of those players would also benefit if Amaro can somehow find a way to move Ryan Howard in the next 2 months. It won't be an easy task, obviously - there are 60 million reasons why - but moving on from Howard would undoubtedly speed up the rebuilding process.
If Howard is still on the roster come April, it will become a headache for everyone, most notably for Sandberg, who would be responsible with jostling playing time. (Also worth mentioning: If Howard is on the Opening Day roster, he'll be less than a month away from reaching 10 years of service time, kicking in a full no-trade clause).
"Once the roster is set, if there are decisions like that would be made, those will be decisions that have to be made beforehand," Sandberg said of the potential logjam of corner infielders with Howard.
Sandberg doesn't have to spend too much time worrying about it just yet, though - the final roster is far from set.
If there is anything Sandberg might worry about, it's the possible inability of sending one of the best, most consistent starting pitchers from the last half-decade to the mound every fifth day in 2015. Cole Hamels continues to be a very popular name for contending teams looking for pitching.
When free agent Jon Lester finally finds a new home (it could come today), the Hamels chatter will only increase, with the Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers all as potential landing spots for the Phillies' 2008 World Series MVP. Still, Sandberg, at least publicly, is on board with the plan if it means parting with Hamels.
"I know with any of these players that Ruben wants a deal that's going to be good for the Philadelphia Phillies going forward," Sandberg said. "Any way that he can help the process and have players that will help us, not only this next year but in the future, that is the goal . . . There's no way that Ruben's going to just give away a player. I mean, we'd have to be wowed to give up a guy like Cole Hamels, which would be a 'wow' that would help us with the process and go in the direction that we want to go."
But, eventually, like any manager, Sandberg would like to have the chance to show off his ability running a contending team.
"How long it takes [to get there], I wouldn't know," Sandberg said. "But I've seen other teams do it in a 2- or 3-year period. That's possible. I think starting the process is the first step."
So are the Phillies currently on step one?
"Well," Sandberg said, "we haven't done anything yet."