SAN FRANCISCO -- Jayson Werth on Monday publicly congratulated Ryan Howard on his five-year, $125 million contract extension. But where does it leave him? Werth, 30, is a free agent after the season. He also is the only right-handed power bat in the lineup. If the Phillies don't re-sign Werth, they will have a very left-handed-heavy lineup with Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez and potentially top prospect Domonic Brown, who could take Werth's place in 2011. Certainly, the Phillies could sign another right-handed bat, but Werth is a rare talent. He hit .268 with 36 home runs, 99 RBIs and 20 stolen bases last season. He also plays good defense in right field.
Howard said he would like to see Werth back. "He's a big part of this team," he said. "He's a big piece of the puzzle, especially because of the makeup -- the makeup of the team and the character of the team. What he does on the field is huge. What he brings to our lineup is huge." Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Howard's record-setting payday does not prevent them from re-signing Werth, and there are indications within the organization that the Phillies believe they can sign Werth to an extension, depending on what he wants. Outfielders Matt Holliday (seven years, $120 million) and Jason Bay (four years, $66 million) signed noteworthy contracts over the winter, which Werth's agent certainly will use as a reference point. "We tried to design [Howard's] contract in a way that our goal continues to be the same," Amaro said. "Try to put a championship-caliber club on the field, year in and year out. We feel like the way we structured the contract gives us a little bit of flexibility to be able to do that as far as Jayson and Jimmy [Rollins] and others who will become free agents in the future. In the not-so-distant future, naturally, we'd like to keep all those guys. We'll go on a case-by-case basis, and hopefully we can keep this group together. We'll see how the pieces of the puzzle end up fitting for us." Werth said in February that the Phillies have had very preliminary talks with his agent, Jeff Borris. Asked about recent negotiations, Werth said, "I think they've been busy with Ryan." Asked if he thinks Howard's contract prevents him from signing an extension, Werth said, "This is all fresh. I haven't really given it too much thought yet. It doesn't make a difference. At the end of the day I've got to go out there and hit and perform and all that." Borris said in a telephone interview Monday that Howard's contract "shouldn't have an effect one way or another" on an extension. "Ruben doesn't tell us what the Phillies' budget is, so I can't assess whether it increases or decreases the chances of Werth coming back," Borris said. "I've had talks with Ruben where -- I think the Phillies have a good thing going there and I'd want to keep the nucleus of that ballclub together. Obviously, Werth has been a major contributor to the club's success and continues to be." Borris said it wouldn't be appropriate to say if he is optimistic Werth will sign an extension. "I think if I were Ryan Howard, I would hope that Jayson Werth would sign back with the Phillies and be hitting right behind him in the order," Borris said. "I would think Ryan Howard would want that. Werth is one of the game's only true five-tool players. You look at him and there is no deficiency in his game. He can do it all. He can hit. He can hit for power. He can play defense. He has speed. There aren't a lot of guys out there like that, and he's the same age as Ryan Howard." Werth has become an extremely popular player in Philadelphia. Grizzly Adams beard or not, fans want him to stay. Werth would like to stay, too. "I think we've started something here, and I think everybody wants to finish it," Werth said.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.