An Early Look Ahead

After a full day to digest the Phillies season-ending loss to the Giants in the National League Championship Series, it’s time to thoroughly assess the past, present, and future of this franchise. In the coming days we’ll look back on the season that was, all while preparing you for what should be an interesting offseason.

Preliminarily, there are several questions heading into the winter. Here are a few of them:

-Will Jayson Werth return?:

It’s unlikely in my opinion, but not out of the question. With Scott Boras now representing him, the picture got cloudier recently as we know Boras’s mantra: take as much as you can get for as long as you can get and don’t look back.

The numbers he has put up over the last three years along with the numbers Jason Bay and Matt Holliday received in free agency are the ones to look at. During Werth’s career, his 162-game average comes out to .272/25/85 with a .848 OPS. It’s the damage he’s done recently, both in the regular season and playoffs, that makes him a hot commodity. He’s now the Phillies all-time leader in home runs n the postseason, and is a very good patroller of right field. Someone will pay top dollar for him.

What exactly is top dollar? Everyone believed Matt Holliday’s seven year, $120 million contract from last offseason was a bit much. However, it was Boras that executed it with the Cardinals. Bay netted $66 million from the Mets, with a vesting fifth year option that could raise it to about $80 million. I think you’ll see Werth get something closer to Bay’s deal than Holliday’s. Four or five years at roughly $15-16 million per season is about right. Boras, however, will see to it he gets every last penny.

The Phillies have negotiating rights for the five days following the World Series, but it’s highly unlikely anything will be done in that time. Werth’s impending free agency will resemble opening a fine bottle of wine; let it breathe for a while before you jump in. Unless the Phillies max their payroll out at $170 million – and there has been no discussion of this that I’ve read, seen, or heard – then Werth is most likely on his way out.

-The Bullpen:

Three relief pitchers are headed for free agency from the Phillies bullpen. J.C. Romero has a $4.5 million team option on his contract that will not be picked up, meaning he’ll be bought out for $250,000. He likely won’t return unless it’s a minor league deal with Antonio Bastardo now the lefty out of the pen.

Chad Durbin made over $2 million a year ago and will ask for a multi-year deal this winter, but with the Phillies salary rising into uncharted territory, it’s unlikely they can provide him with such a contract. Right now, I’d say Durbin is out, too.

Perhaps the most important of the three is Jose Contreras. He really blossomed as a relief pitcher, his first attempt at it after being a starter for the first seven seasons in the majors. Big Truck made only $1 million and is sure to get a raise of about double that. I think the Phillies do their best to keep Contreras, perhaps on a one year deal similar to what Durbin made in 2010.

I think you’ll see a lot of David Herndon, Scott Matheison, and Mike Zagurski next season. They are cheap and under team control. Besides, you can’t have a team filled with multi-million dollar talent. The bullpen is the place where you might see them try to go cheap.

-Can they unload some weight?

Obviously, the regressions of Raul Ibanez and Joe Blanton (and in some cases, Shane Victorino) were detrimental to the outcome this season. Ibanez struggled mightily in the postseason – his swing was so slow you could time it with a sun dial. He still has a year left on his contract with the Phillies at $12.16 million. Unloading that sort of deal will take a Copperfield-like magic trick from Ruben Amaro. If he can get some of that money off the books – it might take something like eating 70% of the remaining money – then he’ll look into it. It’s just not all that likely, so a Raul platoon could be in order for 2011.

Another deal that might hamstring the Phillies is Joe Blanton, who is owed somewhere in the $17 to 21 million range (haven’t been able to find the correct number, I see many others using different numbers. Dave Murphy of High Cheese says $8.5 million next season while Cot’s Contracts says $10.5 million). If they can find a taker for Blanton, while paying about 20 percent of the remainder, they might be able to open their wallets up in free agency a bit to someone like Werth or even Cliff Lee. Again, it’s not likely, but it’s something this team will surely look into.

-Crazy Moves:

After last offseason, the realm of possibilities is quite large with Ruben Amaro and his team. He unloaded Cliff Lee to get Roy Halladay, which many saw as a ridiculous move. That mistake was admitted when the team acquired Roy Oswalt at the deadline.  Could another such move be on the way? And where do you think it comes from if it does occur?

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