It started as a whisper, picked up by the cool Clearwater breeze and whisked along to the people who needed to hear it. Soon, the message was clear enough: Charlie Manuel wants to talk about his contract, get it out of the way, get it over and done with.

The manager is in the last year of his deal. He is 69. The Phillies are coming off a disappointing season that produced as many losses as wins. And right over there, barely at arm’s length, is Ryne Sandberg – the new third base coach and the man some people openly talk about replacing Manuel in the not-too-distant/very-near future.

Manuel was asked about his contract during the offseason. It seemed to irritate him. That is not the same thing, of course, as being asked about his contract during spring training, when the media increases coverage and fans pay attention. Manuel knows that. And so the whispers. And so the conversation.