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A Heavy Look At Arbitration-Eligible Players

The Phillies are facing true arbitration situations with 10 players. And since so many of them are looking for suitable raises, this issue is obviously a large concern. In fact, it likely contributed to the denial of arbitration offers to Jamie Moyer and Pat Burrell.

Of the 10 players, there are a few candidates for long-term deals:

Ryan Howard
Why: You’re not getting another potential 50-home run threat anytime soon. He’s instant offense, instant franchise and instant contention. Plus, he deserves the deal. And, instead of avoiding having to pay $15M over one season, and $18 over another, why not agree on a deal that works for both parties?
Why not: Age, size, history. Howard is closing in fast on 30, and trends for meaty power hitters say 30 is the start of the end. Moreover, Howard would command a multi-year deal worth over $100 million. Do you want to commit that much on one bat?

Cole Hamels
Why: Pat Gillick said last season that Hamels needed to prove he could last a full season without injury before any talk of security arose. Hamels did that in 2008, adding with a healthy season a postseason that rivals very few in the annals of baseball history. Moreover, it’s better to lock him up now before the value of an ace pitcher skyrockets even higher.
Why not: Hamels could have shoulder problems in 2009 or beyond, and with his already rough history, why take the gamble? Plus, Hamels endured a heavy workload in 2008. There’s no guarantee the Phils have a completely durable arm.

Shane Victorino
Why: By locking up Victorino, you lock up an important part of your team. Vic has become a leader since coming aboard, and as the everyday centerfielder, represents the main line of defense in the field. Signing him now to a three- or four-year deal means likely keeping him through his prime.
Why not: At age 28, Vic is close to his highest value. With his low salary, he’s an attractive trading chip. Also, Vic has never stayed completely healthy during a season.

Joe Blanton
Why: The 28-year-old Blanton is a league-average pitcher, good for a mid-rotation spot. Instead of going after a Jon Garland type for potentially more money, it might be wise to ink Blanton for four years and close to $25M. That way you beat the market. And there’s no indication Blanton will tank like Adam Eaton. Plus, he’s a contingency if the Phils don’t want to re-sign Brett Myers after 2009.
Why not: Going year to year with Blanton doesn’t mean paying millions, so you have a cheap starter for another two seasons who should put up fine numbers. His performance doesn’t quite warrant a big deal yet, and anyways, he’ll get some ridiculous contract when he becomes a free agent.

Ryan Madson
Why: This 28-year old is heading into his prime with a postseason performance that has him at the top of the back-end reliever pile. He’s always been a good late-innings reliever, so why not reward him for his great work? Inking him for three or four years won’t cost too much …
Why not: But it likely won’t happen anyway. Madson’s agent is Scott Boras, so if you’re going to cajole Madson into a long-term deal, it would have to blow them away. Plus, there are plenty of relief options on the market each season.

Jayson Werth
Why: Coming into his own in 2008, Werth, 29, seems poised for a couple strong offensive seasons. And he’s practically a shoo-in for the starting right field spot. He wouldn’t cost too much (think $6M per season).
Why not: Outfielders are a dime a dozen. Plus, Werth’s injury history is worse than most. No need in gambling on a guy who might hurt his wrist again.

I’ll look at the other four players (Greg Dobbs, Eric Bruntlett, Chad Durbin, Clay Condrey) later.

The main priorities for long-term deals remain Hamels and Victorino. Both represent key parts of the team, and both would just become more expensive next season. Hamels deserves a deal close to Chase Utley’s monster contract, while Victorino should see a three- to four-year pact.

Howard, sad to say, won’t be a Phillie much longer. I can’t see it, and the Phillies don’t seem to want to see it either. Another two seasons of playing the arbitration game seems evident, and as long as he kills the ball, he’ll win.

I’d go another year with Werth, as his injury history remains troubling. Blanton is a wild card, but you can find league-average pitching everywhere, and not for too much more than what Blanton would cost today. Madson? Forget it. I like the guy, but if Scott Boras is marketing him as a closer, there’s no way he fits with the 2010 Phillies.

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