The conversation has become more lopsided than a first-round women's NCAA tournament game between UConn and whatever poor 16th seed the Huskies happen to draw that year. It's no longer about whether the Phillies should trade Cole Hamels. It's all about when they should trade him, where they should trade him and how much they should get in return.
The little hope the Phillies seemed to have when spring training opened six weeks ago dwindled to none as the Grapefruit League games progressed. Cliff Lee's likely season-ending elbow injury turned the rotation into Hamels and four No. 5s, a kind evaluation considering at least a few of the other starters would be sixes, sevens or unemployed in a lot of major-league cities. David Buchanan is the only other member of the rotation to get excited about.
Hamels, a helpless victim of little run support the last two seasons, will make his second career opening-day start Monday against the Boston Red Sox for a Phillies team that, at least on paper, figures to field the franchise's least potent offense in the 21st century.
Factor in all of the above and the prevailing opinion has become that there is no reason to keep Hamels around when the sky over Citizens Bank Park will be falling for the foreseeable future.
It's a flawed way of thinking programmed by a negative long-term forecast.
No one should pretend that the 2015 Phillies are going to be anything other than awful. One-hundred losses are possible and that is something the Phillies have not done since 1961. That does not mean the 2016 Phillies and 2017 Phillies are going to stink, too.
It's entirely possible that two years from now the Phillies will be competing for a playoff berth, especially in an expanded postseason era in which the two World Series teams last year failed to win 90 games.
The San Francisco Giants, winners of three of the last five World Series, are the poster team for how quickly fates can swing and how it's not only the highly touted prospects or big-name free agents that turn a team's fortunes.
As the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, the Giants lost 90 games for the second straight year and Baseball America ranked the team's farm system No. 23 out of 30. But Madison Bumgarner, the team's first-round pick in 2007, was about to quickly emerge as a star and Buster Posey, the fifth overall pick in 2008, was about to become the game's best catcher.
Angel Villalona, a corner infielder who signed out of the Dominican Republic for $2.1 million, was the prospect getting the most attention at the time, but it was off-the-radar Pablo Sandoval who emerged as the key bat in the middle of San Francisco's order.
Mistakes were made - the free-agent signing of Barry Zito, Zach Wheeler was traded for stretch-run rental Carlos Beltran - but the Giants overcame them.
There is no guarantee, of course, that something similar is going to happen in Philadelphia, but if prospects like Aaron Nola, J.P. Crawford and Maikel Franco continue a fast track to the big leagues in 2015, the future will look a lot brighter going into 2016.
And Hamels, who just completed arguably the best season of his career, will still only be 32 years old with three years left on his contract.
Even he admitted to having an eye on the pitching prospects at double-A Reading.
This does not mean the Phillies should stop listening to offers for Hamels. It's obvious that to this point general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and team president Pat Gillick have not heard the right names for the team's one remaining ace. It's also obvious, given the Phillies' precarious position, that this is a trade they have to win big.
Hamels is not a rent-a-player like Lee was when Amaro traded him to Seattle in the infamous 2009 deal that we now know brought nothing in return.
Keeping Hamels would also give Phillies fans at least one pitcher to watch in this season that figures to be lost by Memorial Day.
"Those are games I'm going to look forward to and those are games we need to get runs for him and create momentum and hopefully build on a win he gets," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "In a lot of ways, I think he sets the tone for the rotation."
It's possible Hamels could have a special season even as his team has a miserable one. It has happened elsewhere and here before. Tim Lincecum won the Cy Young Award for that 2008 Giants team that lost 90 games and Steve Carlton had one of the greatest seasons ever by a pitcher when he won 27 games and posted a 1.98 ERA in 1972.
Understandably and admirably, Hamels would rather pitch great for a great team. He'd love to turn back the clock to 2008 when the Giants were awful and looked like they'd stay that way for a long time while the Phillies were on their way to the franchise's second World Series title.
Things are going to be bad around here in 2015, but the outlook can change in a hurry if the right things happen and the right moves are made.