|Shane Victorino, a career .277 hitter, has been with the Phillies since 2005. (Getty Images)|
Aiming for a third World Series appearance within five years in 2012, the Phillies found themselves splashed across the headlines last November when they gave closer Jonathan Papelbon huge dollars after negotiations with local favorite Ryan Madson broke off.
Who knew at the time that would become the least of the Phillies' worries as their 2012 season crumbled?
Now general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is under intense pressure as he feverishly works over these final hours until Tuesday's trade deadline to salvage 2013.
The Phillies were all over the baseball map on Monday as they talked Cliff Lee, Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Hunter Pence and more, according to multiple sources, all with an eye toward preventing the premature end of the closest thing the National League has seen to a dynasty since the 1990s Atlanta Braves.
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The crux of the last-place Phillies' current dilemma and drama: Having reached the point of no return on 2012, can they remake this team so it can contend again in 2013?
Or are the issues so deep-seeded, and this team's flaws so fatal, that Philadelphia eventually will be forced into the dreaded rebuilding phase?
Just one week ago, the Phillies were still convinced that a minor re-tooling would allow them to contend in 2013, which is why they not only signed left-hander Cole Hamels to a six-year, $144 million deal, but were telling rival clubs at the same time that they did not intend to move Cliff Lee.
The thinking: Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will be back for a full season in 2013, and with Hamels, Lee and Roy Halladay anchoring the rotation and with the rest of the cast, they could prove that 2012 is just an aberration.
Maybe they can still do that.
But given the their flat and ugly play over the past week -- punctuated by the Braves steamrolling them in another sweep over the weekend -- and evidence that age is eroding the roster more quickly than anticipated, indications are that the Phillies may be coming to the realization that contending in 2013 will require more moves than they initially thought.
Complicating that significantly now is the fact that the Phillies waited so long before giving up on the 2012 season.
Because they waited so long, Amaro and his staff essentially reduced their window to make key moves for 2013 to the final 24-hour period before the trade deadline.
Thus, Monday's craziness.
Lee dominated the rumor mill as sources said the Rangers and Phillies were engaged in talks exploring whether a deal to send the lefty back to Texas would make sense. Answer: Almost certainly not.
Because if the Rangers assume Lee's contract, which calls for $25 million annually in each of the next three years, then they're not going to give Philadelphia blue-chip prospects along with that. Which defeats the purpose, for the Phillies, of moving him.
And if the Phillies mined the prospects from Texas, they'd be paying a significant sum of Lee's salary. Which would put them far over-budget, and certainly over the luxury tax threshold. Which would cost them even more money.
Because the Phillies waited until now to make their moves, though, for a fleeting instant Monday you had the prospect of this timeline:
The Phillies stealing Lee away from the Rangers in a stealth, 11th-hour move in the free agent in December, 2010 ... paying him one of the richest contracts in baseball history, five years at $120 million ... and then considering dealing him back to the Rangers.
The Phillies have aggressively scouted Texas' farm system, sources tell colleague Danny Knobler, which completely makes sense because the Rangers, before discussing Lee, were one of the most eager clubs inquiring about Hamels.
Then the Phillies re-signed Hamels and that was that.
What appeared most realistic for the Phillies on Trade Deadline Eve is moving outfielders Shane Victorino, Juan Pierre and starter Joe Blanton. All are free agents this winter, giving the Phillies extra motivation to trade them.
The Reds are trying to swing a deal for Victorino, sources say, but Philadelphia's asking price, for now, is said to be sky high.
The Orioles are among the clubs trying to trade for Blanton.
Whether the Phillies can parlay that trio into a fix for all that suddenly is wrong might require Amaro to perform the work of a magician.
Which undoubtedly is why Hunter Pence is entering the conversations. And they talked with the Athletics on Monday about shortstop Jimmy Rollins, an Oakland native who, at 33, signed a three-year, $36 million deal with the Phillies last winter.
The Phillies right now have no reliable third baseman. Their shortstop (Rollins), second baseman (Utley) and first baseman (Howard) remain huge questions going forward because of age, health and lack of production. There is no center fielder in the system ready to replace Victorino -- at least, not on a championship-caliber club.
At 34, Halladay has lost some zip on his fastball and no longer appears to be the same dominant ace he once was. The middle of the Phillies' bullpen is too much Cheez Whiz, and not enough Philly steak. And there are serious questions in left field (Pierre, John Mayberry) and in right.
Do they deal Pence? The Giants and Dodgers were among those phoning about the 29-year-old who has not performed up to expectations in Philly.
And if they do deal him, then what do they do in right field for 2013?
If the Phillies can answer some of these questions now, over the next 24 hours, that will give them an important running start toward 2013.
As of now, there is more uncertainty as they look to their future than there has been in a long, long time in Philadelphia.
That's a lot of pressure they've heaped upon themselves over these last 24 hours.
And the clock is ticking, loudly.