Barring a blockbuster trade or a free-agent signing by the Phillies, Jayson Werth's landing spot and how the team replaces him will become the dominant Philadelphia baseball story this off-season.
New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago are all potential new homes for the soon-to-be free agent who seems sure to sign the biggest contract of his career with a big-market team that has an immediate chance to win.
It's a story not all that dissimilar to the one that unfolded following the 2007 season, when centerfielder Aaron Rowand had the best year of his life and opted to walk away after being offered a five-year, $60 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.
The most notable difference is that, following the 2007 season, the Phillies had the best offense in the National League, and the thinking was that if they did not re-sign Rowand they would seriously jeopardize that status.
The Phillies no longer have the best offense in the National League - that distinction belonged to the Cincinnati Reds this season - and the prospect of losing Werth's power and production is even more frightening.
What's interesting is that the Phillies could opt to replace Werth in much the same manner they replaced Rowand after the 2007 season. At the time, the idea of moving Shane Victorino to center field and going with a platoon of Werth and free-agent addition Geoff Jenkins in right field was about as appealing as a rotten apple in a Halloween bag.
It was considered the cheap way to go.
Victorino and Werth were unproven, and Jenkins was clearly a player on the decline. As it turned out, the Phillies were right about two out of three, and the Meat Loaf song says that ain't bad. Victorino and Werth became productive members of the outfield and the Phillies won one World Series, went to another, and won three more division titles.
At his end-of-season media session last week, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was asked if he'd be comfortable with Ben Francisco as the team's primary righthanded bat if, as expected, Werth signs elsewhere. In that scenario, Domonic Brown would become the starting rightfielder and Raul Ibanez would remain in left field.
"It's a possibility," Amaro said. "We're not going to be comfortable with anything until we know exactly where we stand with Werth."
Inserting Brown and Francisco in place of Werth could work out every bit as well as Werth and Victorino did a few years ago.
It's not as if Brown is some stiff minor-leaguer who the Phillies are hoping and praying can play in the big leagues. They believe he has a chance to be a star who plays right field in Philadelphia for the next decade.
"He's going to continue to get better," said Chuck LaMar, the Phillies' assistant general manager in charge of player development. "He still needs seasoning, but that seasoning may have to come at the major-league level."
The other thing to remember is that Francisco may be a better player than people realize if given a chance to play more often. Playing in a limited role in 2010, Francisco hit .284 with six doubles and six home runs in 86 at-bats against lefthanded pitching.
A primary concern is that Ibanez is growing too old to remain a productive player. It's a valid point. If the Phillies keep Ibanez, which seems likely unless they're willing to eat a good portion of his $11.5 million salary, they still need to add a second righthanded bat in the outfield.
John Mayberry Jr. is rarely mentioned as an option, but he finished strong at triple-A Lehigh Valley this season and could be hungry when he arrives in Clearwater in February.
"It is to the point where he needs to compete for a job," LaMar said. "His pedigree and his physical ability go without saying. It's time for him to get the job done. I think this will be a huge spring training for John Mayberry. I think he'll either establish himself as some type of major-leaguer or not."
Maybe it's a leap of faith to think that Brown, Francisco, and Mayberry can contribute to a pennant contender. But only slightly more so than when Werth and Victorino took over in the outfield during the 2008 season.
Inside the Phillies:
Read The Inquirer's Phillies blog, "The Phillies Zone," by Bob Brookover and Matt Gelb, at www.philly.com/phillies.