Free Agency Could Hit Phils Hard After '09

Technically, we're still focused on this year's free agents, but since teams always have to look down the road, why shouldn't fans? Actually, free agency could hit the Phillies hard after the 2009 season.

For people who want to know why the Phillies didn't just dish out a ton of money for CC Sabathia or one of the other top free agents on the market, one reason is because of the money they'll be spending in the near future.

First, they'll have a payroll bump through arbitration in the next couple of months. Joe Blanton, Greg Dobbs, Chad Durbin, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Ryan Madson, Ronny Paulino, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth are all arbitration eligible. The Phillies have signed one-year deals with Eric Bruntlett and Clay Condrey to avoid arbitration with both of them. Hamels will see the biggest bump, but Victorino is also likely to see a nice bump. Blanton, Howard, Madson and Werth are already making good money thanks to either having gone to arbitration or signed a relatively lucrative deal to avoid arbitration in the past.

Further down the road though is free agency for some key Phillies players. Madson and Werth are in their final season of arbitration and will be free agents following the 2009 season if they're not signed to long-term deals prior to then. Plus, add Scott Eyre, Brett Myers, Chan Ho Park and Matt Stairs to the list of Phillies who can file for free agency following the season and you start to see how free agency could hit the Phillies next off-season.

Madson, Werth and Myers are the key free agents and Myers could be one of the top two or three starting pitchers on the market. The Phillies plan for Myers right now is likely to let him walk, unless they can get him signed at a reasonable price, and plan on some of their young starters having developed well enough to step up. J.A. Happ and Carlos Carrasco both figure to be key parts of the rotation by late in 2009 at the latest and the Phillies may be able to find a cheaper option than Myers if their young pitching develops the way they hope that it will.

Madson could be looking for a big payday and his agent, Scott Boras, could push him as a potential closer to teams looking for help in that area. The way Madson has pitched, he could well step into a closer's job elsewhere and the Phillies would need to throw a lot of money at him to keep him as Brad Lidge's understudy for another few seasons. Lidge is signed through 2011 with a team option for 2012, meaning that Madson would have to be content to be second fiddle for a couple more seasons, which could prompt him to look for that closer's job.

Werth is likely to be the easiest of the big three to re-sign. He's comfortable in Philly, will be getting plenty of playing time and is grateful to the organization for giving him the chance that they did in 2008 when he was coming back from wrist surgery.

Eyre, Park and Stairs are all going to have to show their worth to the Phillies in 2009 to be important enough to bring back as a free agent. Park could be in a key spot, since the Phillies appear willing to give him a shot at the fifth spot in their rotation and he could position himself for a much higher payday if he pitches well in that role.

Oh, the Phillies will also have to decide on whether they want to pay Adam Eaton $9 million next season or buyout his contract for $0.5 million. Gosh, wonder what they'll do there. Geoff Jenkins will either be due $7.5 million for 2010 or get a $1 million buyout from the Phillies and Pedro Feliz will either get $7 million for another season in Philly or $0.5 million to go away.

Also next winter, Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz will be headed to their first arbitration hearings, which generally result in nice raises, if they're not signed to contracts before then.

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