ATLANTA - This is the time of year on the baseball calendar that generates ambition. Teams in contention covet the better players on lesser teams. Executives swap banter. Scouts whisper to other scouts. So, when Vince Velasquez pitched Friday night in a 2-1 loss to Atlanta with three Texas Rangers officials in the stands and rumors abound, there was intrigue three days before the trade deadline.
If the Phillies are to deal Velasquez, they must be overwhelmed by another team's offer, enough to eschew a new regime's public philosophy and sacrifice one of the few true power arms in the organization.
This time of year, anything and nothing is possible.
Velasquez was not his best in six innings against the worst team in baseball. Afterward, he sounded like a player who knows a trade is possible - and perhaps near. An MLB.com report earlier Friday categorized Texas as having "significant interest" in Velasquez. The presence of three scouts, including a high-ranking one, at Turner Field seemed to reinforce that.
"Our whole goal was to get young pitchers because they're the most expensive commodity," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "If you can develop young pitchers like him and have four or five guys like him, you're ahead of the game. But, at the same time, I'll listen to any offers. If you get three guys for him who are good-looking prospects because pitching is such a commodity, then you have to consider it."
Velasquez, after his outing, said he was aware of the rumors and stressed that he could not control his potential involvement in a trade for the second time in less than a year. Would he be disappointed?
"No," Velasquez said. "At first when I got traded from the Astros, it was kind of tough for me. You have to move on. You have to make the best of what you've got. If things happen, just let it happen. If I go to another team, then I have to make the best of what I've got there. There's a lot of things in the future. I don't know what to expect."
A match between the two sides does not make sense, at least on the surface. For one, Velasquez will not provide much immediate help for Texas in a pennant race because the young pitcher is subject to an innings limit that will not allow him to finish the season. Plus, dealing Velasquez would counteract team president Andy MacPhail's stated strategy, which is to stockpile young pitching. The Phillies could receive promising minor-league arms in return for Velasquez, but any theoretical trade would likely center on infielders Joey Gallo or Jurickson Profar.
The Phillies, however, have extensive scouting background on Texas' system after completing due diligence ahead of the Cole Hamels trade last summer.
If anything, the interest in Velasquez is affirmation. The Phillies chose him as the centerpiece in the trade with Houston last winter for Ken Giles. To this point, he has exceeded expectations. The Rangers like him. So do the Phillies. And 28 other teams.
That is a good thing.
But the Phillies harbored concerns about Velasquez's shoulder when the trade was completed last December. Various scouts have never been convinced that Velasquez will stick in a big-league rotation; he profiles for some as a hard-throwing closer.
Velasquez's 18th start was uneven. He totaled 17 pitches in the first two innings. Then, in the third, he needed 30 as the Braves scored two runs on three hits and a walk. He powered forward and finished with a nine-pitch sixth inning.
Mackanin was not thrilled about how Velasquez attacked the punchless Braves. Velasquez admitted to trying to be "too fine."
"It was just unusual to me," Mackanin said. "The way he pitched was almost like a finesse pitcher more than a power pitcher. I'm not going to argue about it because he did a good job. But he made me a little nervous here and there."
The Phillies, who jumped Atlanta's lackluster pitchers the night before, were befuddled by rookie Tyrell Jenkins. The brisk game ended with the potential tying run eliminated on a forceout at third base.
It is almost August, and the oft-injured Velasquez has logged 972/3 innings in the majors. Most of them have carried promise. That means something to a rebuilding team like the Phillies.
And, perhaps, a contender.
"I'm just thankful for what I've accomplished for the past six, seven months," Velasquez said. "I'm very thankful for the opportunity and everything. Again, I've still got to keep working hard and make the best of what I've got."