Position players have Phils locked up

Even though the Phillies have gone to the playoffs for four straight seasons and have two trips – one successful – to the World Series during that time. This is a club that is in need of some retooling. For some time now, we’ve heard about this window of opportunity for this club and the fact that it could close pretty quickly if the Phillies aren’t careful. Well, at this point, the window has started to slide closed and GM Ruben Amaro needs to be careful this off-season to keep his fingers from getting pinched in that closing window.

As of now, the Phillies have 16 players signed for the 2011 season at a total cost of approximately $145 million. If ownership is to be believed, they are holding the line on payroll and fans shouldn’t expect that the Phillies payroll will rise much, if even a dollar, over the amount that is committed to next year. That means that there wouldn’t be any big additions or, in the case of Jayson Werth, any big re-signings and there may even be a few cuts here and there.

The first problem is that the Phillies have probably been a little too free and easy with handing out long-term deals to players before they needed to make a move. That’s how the payroll has ballooned and why there isn’t much relief in sight for the club. Ryan Howard picked up a nifty five-year, $125 million deal this past April, which means he’s locked in through 2017 if the Phillies add the sixth optional season to the deal. The good news is that you know what you’re going to have to pay him rather than relying on arbitration, but the bad news is that you’re locked into a lot of money that would be difficult to move if the Phillies had a change of heart.

On the other hand, Jimmy Rollins is headed into the final season of his contract and the Phillies are going to have to face a decision on how to handle him. Rollins will be close to turning 33 when his next deal ends, but as of now, the Phillies don’t have any potential replacements who have set themselves apart as the heir-apparent at shortstop. The Phillies decision may come down to two things; 1. Can J-Roll stay healthy in 2011? and 2. Would he accept a one or two-year deal, possibly incentive laden?

Raul Ibanez also has one season left on his deal and is often mentioned as a potential trade candidate. Ibanez had good numbers in 2010, but nothing that reached his career-style numbers and he is certainly in his declining years as an everyday player.

Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz are all signed past the 2011 season.

That brings us to Jayson Werth. The theory is that the Phillies simply won’t be able to afford Werth, who is a free agent following the World Series. With agent Scott Boras in tow, it’s not likely that the Phillies will be recipients of any hometown discounts. Some estimates have Werth asking for – and possibly getting – $16 million a season for five years. The only way those numbers work for the Phillies is if the deal is heavily back-loaded or they shed some salary.

The Phillies may need to consider attempting to deal away a player or two to keep Werth around. They need a right-handed bat, especially since Werth’s replacement – Domonic Brown – is a left-handed hitter, and Werth is the best that will be on the free agent market. However, since some players, like Howard, have hefty contracts, the Phillies potential trade partners are slim. Ibanez and his declining skills also make him a hard sell at $11.5 million for next season.

There is a lot to consider, including the age of the players and their ability to stay healthy. This is a key off-season for the Phillies and could well determine the size of the Phillies post-season window.

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