SAN DIEGO - The final 24 hours of these winter meetings, once they were unclogged by Jon Lester's decision to sign with the Cubs, assumed a frenzied pace. By the time Ruben Amaro Jr. and his staff departed California on Thursday afternoon, they could say the Phillies' demolition had begun. Teams were more willing to do business and now will explore their backup plans involving other Phillies assets.
But, after seven starting pitchers changed hands from Wednesday night into Thursday, there was less clarity about where the biggest fish, Cole Hamels, could land. Boston, his assumed destination, reportedly acquired three starters. The Dodgers will sign Brandon McCarthy for $48 million to be their fourth starter. The Tigers, Reds, and Marlins flipped starters.
The chatter about Hamels was quieter after Lester signed. The Phillies worked to finalize the Jimmy Rollins trade, which is contingent on Los Angeles' trade with San Diego involving Matt Kemp. One of the Padres prospects in the deal, Zach Eflin, will go to the Phillies, according to a source.
But Major League Baseball had to approve a $30 million payment in the Kemp trade, and both the Padres and Dodgers needed time to review medical data for players with sizable injury histories. That trade could be completed Friday, with the Rollins announcement soon thereafter.
Tom Windle, a lefthander in the Dodgers' minor-league system, is the other player the Phillies will receive, according to a CSNPhilly.com report. Amaro has said the team will target pitching depth; his first two trades have netted three starters all 23 years old or younger.
Eflin, 20, pitched at single-A Lake Elsinore last season and posted a 3.80 ERA in 24 starts. He was a first-round pick (33d overall) in the 2012 draft. Baseball America ranked him as the Padres' No. 14 prospect before last season.
Windle, 22, had a 4.26 ERA in 25 starts for single-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2014. He, too, was a high draft pick. The Dodgers selected him in the second round (56th overall) from the University of Minnesota. He ranked 12th in Baseball America's preseason Dodgers prospect rankings.
Hamels, of course, is the one Phillies player who could fetch top prospects. While Boston fortified its rotation, it still lacks a No. 1 starter. The Red Sox have the resources to do that. The pitchers they acquired did not require the surrendering of top talent or significant dollars. They could pursue a free agent such as James Shields, continue to engage the Phillies on Hamels, or do neither.
"I think it's never a question whether a team would benefit from having an ace or a front-of-the-rotation type starter," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington told reporters Thursday. "The question is, 'How do you get them and where do they come from?' If you look at 2014, the top 10 or 15 starting pitchers, there are a bunch of them [who] two years ago would not have been on that list. Pitching can change quickly."
Los Angeles has four starters locked into place. Its interest in Hamels is said to be diminished. The rival Giants bid on Lester and could do the same for Shields. They have been said to be on the periphery of Hamels talks, and it is uncertain whether San Francisco has the prospects to execute such a trade.
If Boston is the lone viable partner, that removes whatever leverage the Phillies hoped to hold. And it could force them to retain Hamels and dangle him in July, with the hopes that more teams gain interest. That would produce the best possible package.
There are other pieces for Amaro to move. Marlon Byrd is the likeliest to find a new home. Chase Utley may have to reconsider his no-trade stance after seeing his double-play partner seek more gainful employment. The Angels need a second baseman after trading Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers, but one source familiar with their thinking said Utley's contract - specifically the three vesting options - is too much of a hindrance.
Amaro, who left San Diego without answering questions, could at least boast progress in his quest to remake the Phillies.
Now, for the heavy lifting.