An enormous contract has been signed and now we ask: Who is next?
Phillies president David Montgomery said making a commitment like the franchise-record five-year, $125-million extension the team gave to first baseman Ryan Howard Monday wasn't that difficult a decision.
"When you're talking about commitments to Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay and Chase Utley, we feel like we're making commitments to quality athletes and quality people," Montgomery said. "Yes, there is some risk, but we take comfort in the quality of the people we're dealing with."
What Montgomery said next about Howard, Halladay and Utley was interesting because it doesn't apply only to the team's three biggest superstars.
"By any standards, what Ryan has done is make his game complete," Montgomery said.
"You're talking about a guy who has worked very hard on his conditioning and his defensive skills to complement what he was already doing on offense. We also know what a hard worker Roy Halladay is, and there is no more consummate professional than Chase Utley. If you're going to go long-term with guys, they're the guys to go with."
With Howard, Halladay and Utley all signed through at least 2013, these burning questions remain: What about rightfielder Jayson Werth and shortstop Jimmy Rollins?
Montgomery knows those are difficult decisions.
"Only time will tell," he said. "I don't want to lump anybody with anybody else. We have had tremendous success with this group, and we know how much our fans would like to extend this as long as possible. We want to keep this group together as long as possible. Is it possible to keep everyone? Probably not. But we don't want to rule anybody out at this point because they're part of our club."
Werth, who'll be 31 next month, is the first case on the docket because he's a free agent after this season. What happened with Howard really doesn't have much impact on the Phillies' decision with Werth. Howard was already going to make $20 million next season, and he'll make that much in 2012 and '13, too.
The decision the Phillies have to make concerning Werth is whether they can afford to keep both their all-star rightfielder and Raul Ibanez around next season. The Phillies have already committed more than $130 million to 17 players for next season, and if they give Werth a long-term deal, their payroll will likely soar over $150 million.
Ibanez's three-year deal that runs through 2011 has made the Werth issue a difficult one. It's clear that Werth is the younger, better, and more valuable player. Ibanez, not including Monday night's game, has hit just .201 with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs since going on the disabled list last June with a strained left groin. The leftfielder will be 38 on June 2.
Werth, meanwhile, seems to keep getting better each season.
The Phillies' smartest move right now would be to find a way to keep Werth, then replace Ibanez with top prospect Domonic Brown in 2012 or perhaps even at some point in 2011.
"There is no question that to remain a solid club, regardless of who we keep or do not keep, we have to continue to develop talent, and that's the ongoing challenge," Montgomery said.
"The more we commit [financially] to the stars of our club, the more we need to augment them with players in our system."
Which brings us to Rollins.
The Phillies shortstop is signed through next season, the same as Howard before Monday. Even though it seems as if Rollins has been around forever, he's only 20 days older than Utley and less than a year older than Howard.
Rollins will never be the perfect leadoff hitter, but he brings things to the table that no other shortstop in baseball can, including Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees. That's not to say Rollins is better or more valuable than Jeter. The point is he's the particular engine that makes the Phillies run. Hitting instructor Milt Thompson compares Rollins to Rickey Henderson without the walks as a leadoff man.
The better argument for getting a deal done with Rollins is that there's nobody in the system close to being ready as a replacement. Yes, Freddy Galvis has a big-league glove, but it's impossible to ignore that .197 batting average he's carrying around at Reading.