LOS ANGELES -- They are the Final Five from the World Series championship team that paraded down Broad Street a half-decade ago.
Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz are the only remaining Phillies from the 2008 postseason roster. With the July 31 Trade Deadline looming, the clock may be ticking on their time with the Phillies, if the team does not improve its play and the right deal comes along for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. The Phillies open a three-game series Tuesday in Pittsburgh a season-worst five games under .500, 9 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East and 7 1/2 games behind the Reds for the second NL Wild Card.
"You can't keep the same regime forever," Hamels said. "It doesn't last. I think every player gets to the point in their career when they're finally pushed out. That's sports. Organizations want to put winning teams on the field. If you're not able to do it, they have to switch it around no matter how great a player is or what type of qualities they bring. Sometimes a switch-up is refreshing for a business. It's like any business. CEOs leave, and they were great CEOs."
In the next few weeks there will be countless reports from anonymous front-office executives and scouts speculating on the future of the Phillies' top talent, although the Phillies are not a small-market team compelled to trade anybody or shed payroll. Players like Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, Michael Young and Delmon Young will get their share of attention and could be moved, but breaking up the Final Five would signal the end of arguably the most successful era in franchise history.
"Any time you're at the end of your contract and your team isn't doing as well as it could be doing, your name is going to be out there in trade talks," Utley said. "I get it. Everyone in this clubhouse gets it. We still have a month to play. We can put ourselves back in contention pretty easily. But we've got to play good baseball."
Hamels and Howard can breathe easy. They are in no danger of being traded. Hamels signed a seven-year, $144 million contract last summer. The Phillies plan to build their rotation around him. Howard, meanwhile, is in the second-year of a five-year, $125 million contract. His production and health are concerns, so there is no chance the Phillies could trade him unless they eat the vast majority of the remaining money on his deal ($85 million after this season). And if eating most of the contract is a prerequisite, the Phillies will hold onto him and hope he can recapture some of his former magic.
But Utley, Rollins and Ruiz may have greater odds of being moved.
Utley, 34, is the heart and soul of the clubhouse, respected by everybody that has pulled on a uniform. He is in the final year of a seven-year, $85 million contract. He missed a month this season because of a strained right oblique and missed much of the previous two seasons because of knee injuries, but he is hitting .284 with 10 doubles, two triples, 11 home runs, 30 RBIs and an .866 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. If Utley had enough plate appearances to qualify, his OPS would be tied with Robinson Cano for the third best among second basemen in baseball. His .517 slugging percentage is his highest since a .535 mark in 2008.
Utley is trying not to think about it.
"We've had a good run," Utley said. "But I still feel like we can win here."
The Phillies considered trading Rollins, 34, last July, but in the end held onto him. He is in the second year of a three-year, $33 million contract that includes an $11 million option for 2015 that automatically vests based on 600 plate appearances in 2014 or 1,100 plate appearances in 2013-14. If he is healthy, that should not be a problem, but that money owed is why he will be difficult to trade.
Of course, it also must be noted Rollins cannot be traded without his approval. He has 5-and-10 rights.
"I've got the power," he said last month.
The Phillies debated giving Freddy Galvis a shot at shortstop before they resigned Rollins in December 2011. They just optioned Galvis to Triple-A Lehigh Valley because they still believe he can be an everyday player, so they have somebody ready to replace Rollins should they have the opportunity to move him.
If the Phillies find a trade partner for Rollins and he accepts it, it could shake up the culture of the clubhouse much like Bobby Abreu's trade to the Yankees in 2006. Rollins has been with the Phillies since 2000. He litters the franchise record book in nearly every offensive category, but the Phillies front office and coaching staff have had issues with Rollins' effort and teammates also have groused privately about it. But Rollins' .689 OPS ranks ninth out of 20 shortstops in baseball. And despite the fact he has not hit better than .268 since 2008, his .721 OPS from 2009-13 is 10th out of 25 qualifying shortstops in that span.
Ruiz, 34, is the final year of a four-year, $13.35 million contract. He missed the first 25 games this season serving a suspension for using a banned stimulant. He then missed a month because of a strained right hamstring. He has not hit well this season, although he has had only 88 at-bats. But a team in need of a catcher would be acquiring a respected signal caller (he is Roy Halladay approved) with plenty of postseason experience, leadership skills and just one season removed from the best offensive year of his career.
"Right now, I'm trying not to think about it," Ruiz said. "I'm going to continue to play here and see how we finish. I want to finish the right way. We don't have control over this. We've played together for a long time and we definitely want to stay together, but this is a business and you never know. But I'm so happy here. I hope this year we can turn around everything and win the World Series."
So what gives the core hope?
They still believe in their talent. They also hope history holds true. The Phillies have a .610 winning percentage after the All-Star break with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel at the helm. Even after trading Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino last July 31, the Phillies went 36-24 (.600) the rest of the way. Maybe it can happen again.
"We tend to play better baseball late in the season for whatever reason," Utley said. "I can't put my finger on why, but it's a fact. And we all want to win."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com.