They had high expectations for Thome when they signed him to a one-year, $1.25 million contract in November, much like they had high expectations for themselves. The Phillies thought he could play first base occasionally and be a weapon off the bench as they tried to win their sixth consecutive National League East championship and first World Series title since 2008.
But sometimes plans and hopes fall far short. Thome, 41, could not play first base because of a chronically bad back and he struggled as a pinch-hitter, and the Phillies are freefalling. They dropped eight games under .500 for the first time since July 28, 2006, following Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Marlins at Marlins Park.
"It's just a matter of time if you're not winning," Cole Hamels said of the trade. "Things are going to go in different directions."
"I guess the reality is, yeah, we need to start winning games or things can change," Chase Utley said.
But Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. insisted this trade -- Philadelphia received Class A catcher Gabriel Lino and right-hander Kyle Simon from the Orioles -- is not a prelude of bigger trades or bolder moves.
"This wasn't a trade that had anything to do with a message," Amaro said in a conference call with Phillies beat reporters. "This is a trade that is beneficial for us later on and hopefully beneficial for Jim. If people think this is the start of us selling players off, that's incorrect. We are in a tough spot because we have not played well and are behind. But we're not throwing in any towels.
"We were trying to do two things, really. We were trying to be attentive to Jim's situation, and at the same time, trying to take care of the Phillies. First and foremost, that's my job -- to put us in the position to do the right thing for the organization. At the same time, the player that we're talking about and the great deal of respect we have for Jim, I wanted to try to put him in a position where he can flourish. We were hopeful we would have him play enough on our club to stay sharp. It didn't work out."
Amaro described Lino, who will head to Class A Lakewood, as a "high-ceiling catcher. Excellent catch and throw guy. He has some aptitude offensively. He can swing the bat a little bit. Very, very young. He has a chance to be pretty good."
Amaro said Simon, who will head to Class A Clearwater, has "pretty good stuff." He is a starter, but could project as a reliever.
But one still wonders if the Phillies would have traded Thome if they were eight games over .500 and just a game or two behind the first-place Nationals in the NL East, instead of where they are.
"It really depends," Amaro said. "Time and circumstance dictates some of the moves you make. I'm not sure. I probably would. But again, we're not in that position right now."
Thome, who is one of baseball's all-time good guys, lamented the fact his second tour with the Phillies did not go according to plan. That said, he provided some of the team's only first-half highlights. He hit a walk-off home run against the Tampa Bay Rays last Saturday. He hit .333 (12-for-36) with two doubles, four home runs and 14 RBIs during nine Interleague games as the Phillies' designated hitter earlier this month. He hit a home run over the batter's eye at Target Field, proving to himself he still has something left in the tank.
"There are always emotions when you're traded, because you have so much respect for the organization," Thome said. "When they called me over the winter, this was a special place. And it is. It is. I think the disappointing thing for me is I wasn't able to play as much first base as I thought. With that being said, the guys were great, the organization was great, there's a reason why this club has the reputation they have.
"You look through the room, there are winners all up and down it. It was a real, real joy and pleasure to come to the ballpark every day and sit in Charlie [Manuel's] office and talk baseball. And getting that opportunity every night to prepare to get a big hit, I enjoyed that. I did. I struggled at it, but I really truly enjoyed the preparation every night to get ready."
Thome said he believed the Phillies can still save their season.
"Absolutely. Look at what the Cardinals did last year," Thome said, referring to St. Louis' comeback from 10 1/2 games back late in the season to win the NL Wild Card, and ultimately, the World Series.
Thome ended his Phillies career watching from the visitors' dugout, hoping for one last chance to hit. Had Shane Victorino extended the ninth inning in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Marlins, Manuel said Thome would have pinch-hit for Ty Wigginton.
"It would have been special for sure," Thome said. "But I am excited to go play and get some at-bats. Interleague happened and I felt like I could still do it a little bit. That's what's exciting. I know those guys have been having a pretty solid year. So it'll be fun to go over there and try to contribute and help them win."
The Phillies are hopeful they can start winning, too. But it won't be easy.
"When we can't win with [Cliff] Lee and Hamels, that kinds of tells you how things are going," Manuel said.
Manuel chuckled, expressing his frustrations of a disappointing season.
"I don't mean to laugh, it's definitely not a laughing matter," he said. "Believe me, I'm more serious than that. We're trying to turn it around, we're trying to get something going and we can get so close, yet we drift back and get so far away."
The Phillies selected the contract of outfielder Jason Pridie from Triple-A Lehigh Valley to take Thome's spot on the roster.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.