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Phils appear set for another run in '09

Phils appear set for another run in '09

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies are celebrating their first World Series championship in 28 years. The parade down Broad Street is still to come, and fans will be wearing their 2008 gear for quite a while.

But in the offices at Citizens Bank Park, it's already time to start thinking about 2009. Fortunately for the Phils, it looks like another good year.

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Nearly every core player from the 2008 club is either under contract or under the team's control for 2009, including second baseman Chase Utley, starter Cole Hamels, first baseman Ryan Howard and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. The only essential members of the world champs who can be free agents are left fielder Pat Burrell -- who would be a significant loss -- and lefty starter Jamie Moyer.

That's not to say there isn't work to do. For one thing, contracts need to be reached with Hamels and Howard, both of whom are eligible for arbitration and could be quite expensive.

Even if Moyer re-signs -- and there's a good chance he will -- the Phillies could probably use another quality starting pitcher. And something needs to be done about the outfield, where it seems likely that Burrell could move on.

Still, what's coming back is very impressive. The front of the rotation, the back of the bullpen and the core of the offense come back, and the vast majority of those players are right in the heart of their primes.

Among returning players, third baseman Pedro Feliz is the only lineup regular who will be 31 or older in 2009. Closer Brad Lidge and left-handed reliever J.C. Romero are both north of 30, but for the most part, this is a team that is neither old nor young -- it's just right.

The most important player on the Phils in the postseason, lefty ace Hamels, also presents one of the club's biggest challenges. The Phillies could go year-by-year with Hamels, as they've done with Howard, or they could lock him up long term. Either way, though, the most important thing for 2009 is that Hamels is under the team's control.

The rest of the rotation is relatively set but could still use another arm. Brett Myers and Joe Blanton return as mid-rotation starters, and Moyer could be back. Kyle Kendrick and/or J.A. Happ could flesh out the back of the starting five. Another upgrade would be welcome, but it's a fivesome with which you can win.

The lineup potentially stands to take a little more of a hit. Burrell has been maligned at times, but as a source of power and on-base ability, he's a major offensive asset. His production can't be appropriately replaced in-house, such as by moving Jayson Werth to left and starting Geoff Jenkins in right.

Even so, no Phillies hitter significantly outperformed expectations this year, and it could be argued that a couple underperformed. So while Burrell's loss would be felt, players like Rollins, perhaps Howard and even catcher Carlos Ruiz could all reasonably figure to produce more next year.

The rest of the National League will be working to dethrone the league champions in 2009, and clubs such as the Mets, Cubs, Brewers, Dodgers and D-backs will all figure in. But with a strong core mostly locked in, the Phillies have a head start on all of them, and there's plenty of reason to think that '09 will be another bright season at Citizens Bank Park.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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