CLEARWATER, Fla. - Inside Bright House Field Wednesday morning, Ryne Sandberg was trying to put a happy face on a grim situation. On the eve of his second spring training as Phillies manager, he talked about how eager he was to get a longer look at some of his younger players. He called this a "transition" period rather than a rebuilding one.
"You never know in baseball," he said. "You get the right guys together on the same page, you just never know."
Meanwhile, in Tampa, the staff ace the Phillies tried to trade this offseason was telling a reporter from USA Today how badly he wanted to turn the page.
"I just want to win," Cole Hamels said. "That's all. That's all any competitor wants. And I know it's not going to happen here."
That's one fine thank you for the team that gave Hamels a six-year, $144 million contract at the trade deadline in 2012. The day he signed that deal, which made him the highest-paid athlete in the city's history, the San Diego native sounded so sincere about his love for all things Philadelphia.
"You play for a reason, and that reason is to win a World Series, to play in front of sellout crowds, to play in front of a Philly Nation of fans that are everywhere, here and on the road, that are cheering you on," Hamels said. "That's the reason we play this game.
"It's very hard to leave a place you've had so many great memories and have been able to enjoy so much good, and you know there's so much more good to come. You don't want to miss it. You don't want to not be a part of it. I understand that free agency is great, the opportunities that are out there, the unknown. But I really do feel this is the place I call home and the place I want to call home for a really long time."
The going has obviously gotten much tougher since Hamels made those statements and now he has decided it is time for him to get going.
"This isn't what I expected," he told USA Today. "It's not what the Phillies expected, either. But it's reality."
Reality bites sometimes and it's going to make Sandberg's job difficult. In addition to Hamels, the manager has to deal with a roster of other veterans who, all things considered, would rather be some place other than Philadelphia. Jonathan Papelbon climbed aboard that train two seasons ago at the trade deadline when he said, "I definitely didn't come here for this."
Hamels' words on Wednesday essentially said the same thing with perhaps a little more polish.
"The reason the Phillies committed a huge contract to me wasn't just to pitch in the regular season, but the postseason, too," he said. "That's why they paid me that kind of money. They planned on being in the playoffs every year or at least contending.
"I want that, too. I want to be in the playoffs every year. That's where you make a name for yourself. It's not about the Cy Young Awards and MVP awards. It's about winning championships. You want to be in a place where you have a chance to win. And when we were winning with the fans and the passion they have for sports, it was the best place to be."
And now it may be one of the worst and it's no secret the Phillies would be glad to deal Hamels if they can get the right package of prospects in return. It has to be the right package, however, because what good does it do the Phillies to trade their most valuable player if it does not bring a valuable return?
Hamels did not help the Phillies' bargaining power with what he said and his teammates should not be happy about it either. It's one thing for the outside world to think you are going to stink and quite another for your own teammate to feel that way.
Sandberg is trying to promote a different mind-set among his young players and now his best player is saying that the Phillies cannot win. It's probably true, but it's definitely wrong to think that way when you're still wearing that team's uniform. Hamels has $22.5 million reasons to promote his team and he chose to soil it instead.
"There's nothing in the contract that says you're going to be playing on a team that is over .500," Larry Bowa said.
The Phillies bench coach was not talking specifically about Hamels. He was referencing all the remaining veterans in general. He knows this could be a difficult season for them, but he believes they can help the younger players learn how to win.
"To me, this tests veteran players," Bowa said. "Are they able to go out and battle when the odds are against you?"
We know where Cole Hamels stands now. He'd rather change platoons.