The Philadelphia Phillies handed first baseman Ryan Howard the kitchen sink last month, and for good reason. But will the defending NL champs, who are up to their ears in big contracts, be able to sign All-Star outfielder and impending free agent Jayson Werth?
Werth is in his contract year with the Phils and it remains to be seen if Philly can afford the soon-to-be 31 year old, who can expect to see Matt Holliday (seven years, $120 million) money on his next offer sheet.
The Phils own a shade under $141 million in payroll this season and 2011 isn't looking like a bargain year. And it all starts with the signing of the power-hitting Howard, who inked a five-year, $125 million contract extension with a $23 million club option for 2017 in April.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Ace Roy Halladay, who signed a three-year extension over the winter, will be making $15.75 million in 2010 and $20 million per year from 2011-2013, along with a $20 million vesting option for 2014.
Chase Utley, arguably the game's best second baseman, signed an $85 million, seven-year contract back in 2007 that pays him $15 million in each season from 2010-13.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins' $8.5 million club option for 2011 was exercised in December.
Ace-in-the-hole Cole Hamels signed a three-year, $20.5 contract in 2009.
Earlier this year, Joe Blanton agreed on a $24 million, three-year contract that calls for a $1 million salary this year and $8.5 million in each of the final two seasons.
"I know that how much they’re spending is an issue. I think its’ always
an issue no matter what the situation is," Werth told Philly.com. "I definitely think that will
play a part of it going forward, but that’s something my agent and the
team will work out."
So where does that leave Werth?
Possibly on his way up 95 North to Boston, where the wealthy Red Sox are always major players in big-time free agents. Not to throw in the towel on 2010 season like the majority of Red Sox Nation has done after one month of action, but it's never too early to look to the future. Plus, if the season rolls along at this rate, a big stick will be needed to compete in 2011.
Even if the Phillies had the money to offer Werth an extension during the summer or sign him in the upcoming offseason, there's no guarantee that the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder would stay in the City of Brotherly Love.
"We’ll have to see," he said. "That’s what I’ve got an agent for. They handle all that stuff. My focus is the Philadelphia Phillies, the guys in that clubhouse, the city of Philadelphia and winning another championship.
"This is the first time I’ve been in a situation like that, where you’re dealing with a long-term deal and extensions and all that," he added. "This is the first time I’ve had an opportunity at that. We’ll deal with that as it comes, but it’s not something I’m going to be focused on."
As of now, there has been no in-depth discussion about keeping him in Philly, as Werth admits all talks regarding contracts have been "very preliminary. … Nothing, really."
Perhaps it's the Phillies who have stalled negotiations. It's happened before in 2007, when center fielder Aaron Rowand had a 27-homer season but was allowed to walk because the club felt Shane Victorino was ready to become a regular.
The NL East leaders have plenty of options on the farm to take Werth's spot in right field. Domonic Brown, a 22-year-old left-handed power hitter has five homers and 19 RBIs in 24 games in Double-A Reading this season. In 2009, he smacked 14 homers and drove in 64 runs split between three clubs. Ranked just behind Brown is Tyson Gillies, who came over in the Cliff Lee-to-Seattle deal this offseason. Gillies hit .341 last season and led the California League with 44 stolen bases at Single-A High Desert. He also scored 104 runs and posted a .430 on-base percentage.
But Werth has proven himself on the big stage, and letting him walk would be a tough pill to swallow. Werth had a career year in 2009, when he spanked 36 homers, drove in 99 runs and swiped 20 bags. In 15 postseason games, he launched seven homers and had 13 RBIs to go with a 1.129 OPS.
As if those stats aren't enough to make Sox fans drool over the thought of the tall right-handed slugger hitting behind Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis for years to come, than the rock star beard and long brown locks make him a perfect candidate to take over Johnny Damon's caveman crown.
The "Werwolf," who's hitting .349 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 31 games this season, would have the Nation howling. But with Jacoby Ellsbury signed long-term and both J.D. Drew and Mike Cameron on the books through 2011, it's going to be interesting to see if and how management would try to squeeze him into the fold for 2011 and beyond.
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