DENVER -- A day after Cliff Lee voiced frustration with the Phillies’ inability to win consistently, manager Charlie Manuel joined the club.
“When I hear Cliff wanting to play for a winner -- no one in baseball wants to win more than I do,” Manuel said before the Phils opened a three-game series with the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on Friday night.
“We have quite a bunch of those guys -- (Roy) Halladay, Cliff, (Jonathan) Papelbon, more than that. Those guys signed here because they wanted to be here, that it was a good place to come for a chance to win. For us to win, we have to get better, improve. How we do that is another story, but at the same time, we have to play a lot better baseball than we have.”
For the second year in a row, the Phillies’ first-half struggles have led to speculation that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. could trade off some pieces in July. Lee and Papelbon are prime candidates, though Amaro has downplayed the possibility of dealing both, especially Lee.
“The best chance we have to be a winning club now and in the future is to have the top of the rotation we have with those two big left-handers,” Amaro said of Lee and Cole Hamels earlier this week (see story). “That’s our best chance to win games. That’s what we’re in the business of doing.
“People think we’re going to blow up this team. We’re never going to be in the position of blowing up. There’s no blowing up. There might come a time when we make changes to improve for the future, but we don’t have a reason to blow it up.”
Lee signed with the Phillies over the Yankees and Rangers because he believed the team gave him a chance to win a World Series. The World Series seemed a long way away when the Phillies took the field with a 32-35 record Friday night.
A night earlier, Lee, who turns 35 in August, was asked about his future with the team, specifically if he’d want to stay with the club if things don’t turn around. He gave a non-committal answer, saying, “I definitely want to win.” He went on to say he wanted to win in Philadelphia, but sounded like a guy who might be open to moving on if things continue to look bleak for the Phils.
Papelbon could be of interest to contending teams looking for a closer such as Detroit, Boston or maybe St. Louis. He has two years and $26 million remaining on his deal and a no-trade clause that allows him to pick the 12 teams he’d go to. Detroit is not on that list, but no-trade clauses can be negotiated away. The Tigers had a scout in Denver for the start of Friday night’s Phillies-Rockies series. The significance of that was unknown, but the Tigers do have serious closer issues.
While Amaro has downplayed the notion of trading top guys, remember, he is on record as saying there may come a time when he makes changes to benefit the future. A premier closer is a luxury for a non-contending team. It would not be surprising to see Amaro eventually move Papelbon to inject some young position player talent into the lineup -- if the Phillies fall further in the standings.
Manuel was asked whether the trade deadline was on his mind.
“I have nothing to do with that,” he said Friday. “That’s not a decision I have anything to do with.
“I stay focused on my job and my main part is to win the game. I try to play the best team we can every night, and hopefully we play well enough to win the game.”