When it comes to signage, location is everything, so credit the fan(s) who draped a large white banner above the batter's eye in centerfield during the Phillies' 5-4 win over the Cubs on Thursday afternoon.

The message was simple - "SIGN WERTH," in big, black letters - and impossible to miss.

"I kind of get a chuckle out of things like that," said Jayson Werth, whose impending free agency has emerged as something of a cause celebre among fans. "It is what it is, you know?"

And it appears as if it will remain that way for the time being. Sure, life would be a lot simpler if all that was standing in the way of a contract extension for the rightfielder was a well-placed banner ad and a lightbulb going off above general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s head.

But desire is not the holdup here. The Phillies have said repeatedly they would like to re-sign Werth. And Werth has said that he is open to re-signing.

This is about business. This is about a player with a finite window of earning power and a limited salary history who, for the first and potentially last time in his career, will be a hot commodity on the open market. This is about a Phillies team that has roughly $130 million committed to 15 players in 2011 after opening up 2010 with a payroll of about $140 million.

And it is about the fact that the month is still May, and Werth is still less than 2 months into his third full season as an everyday player.

Yesterday, Werth said that he has no clearer picture about his future now than he did at the start of the season.

"It's probably gone the other way," he said. "I probably have less of an idea now."


"Uncertainty, I guess," he said.

Werth's public diplomacy with regards to his contract has been commendable thus far. He has made it clear that he likes playing for the Phillies without sacrificing any potential leverage or raising any false hopes by answering questions like, "Would you take less to play here in Philadelphia?"

Yet he has been honest, choosing his words carefully to avoid headlines and distractions, but also expressing the following sentiment on several occasions: "I've played my entire career for this year."

The Phillies are hopeful that they can work out a deal at some point this summer, but it takes two to tango, and you have to figure it wouldn't make much sense from Werth's perspective to settle for a deal smaller than the one he might command on the open market.

A player like Roy Halladay might be in a position to take significantly less money in order to play for the Phillies, but Halladay already had made $73.78 million in his career when he signed his below-market deal this offseason.

Werth, meanwhile, would enter free agency having earned $13.153 million in big-league salary, far less than most blue-chippers. For comparison, consider Diamondbacks outfielder Chris Young, who will enter free agency 2013 or 2014 at 30 or 31 having earned at least $28.7 million. Werth essentially missed 2 years to a wrist injury, and didn't eclipse 400 at-bats until 2008. He is 31 years old, does not have a college degree, and has trained his entire life to do one job: play baseball.

This year is the year it all pays off.

His value seems to grow by the day. He hit a towering two-run homer last night in the Phillies' win over the Red Sox. He entered the week ranked among the top 25 outfielders in OPS (.893/ninth), home runs (67/fourth) and steals (42/21st) since 2008.

The Phillies have a 15-day window after the season when they have exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents. By that time, both sides will have a better idea of Werth's market value. St. Louis outfielder Matt Holliday got to free agency but ended up re-signing with the Cardinals.

There is still a chance something gets done this season, but right now Werth has all the leverage, and plenty of incentive. It just isn't as simple as "SIGN WERTH."