The long-term effect of Ryan Howard's new contract extension on the Phillies has been breathlessly debated over the last two days, but Howard's deal also raises questions about Philadelphia's short-term future. Outfielder Jayson Werth is set to hit free agency following this season, and it's unclear if the Phillies will be able to afford him.
David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News points out that Howard's extension, which starts in 2012, doesn't affect the team's bottom line for next year, but it could impact the Phillies' ability to commit long-term to Werth. Assuming he enjoys a strong 2010 campaign, Werth may be in position to command a deal similar to the four-year, $66M contract Jason Bay signed with the Mets over the winter, which would put the Phillies on the hook beyond 2011.
According to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, the Phillies' organization believes they'll be able to re-sign Werth, a stance reiterated when GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said Howard's contract wouldn't affect their chances of retaining the 30-year-old. Werth's agent, Jeff Borris, echoed Amaro's sentiment, though he added that it wouldn't be appropriate to say whether he was optimistic about a Werth extension.
The Phillies won't have a ton of money to work with next year if, as Murphy suggests, they hope to keep their payroll around $140MM. They already have about $130MM committed to returning players, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post says the club has misspent a lot of the money that could have gone to Werth. Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer thinks that the Phils' best move would be to re-sign Werth and find a way to replace Raul Ibanez with prospect Domonic Brown. Considering Ibanez will be owed $11.5MM and will turn 39 next year, moving him may be easier said than done.
While the financial issues involved in re-signing Werth are challenging enough, the Phillies also have to consider the problems facing their offense if he walks. Replacing Werth with Brown would give the team yet another left-handed bat in a lineup that already includes Howard, Ibanez, and Chase Utley.
Zolecki writes that extension discussions with Werth seem to have been put on hold while the Phillies finalized the Howard deal. Now the team will have to hope that Howard's extension, which will likely hamper their negotiating flexibility with Werth, won't entirely kill their chances of retaining the star outfielder.