Phillies' free agency: The great unknowns

Retirement is a real possibility for 16-year veteran Mike Sweeney, who got one postseason at-bat.
Retirement is a real possibility for 16-year veteran Mike Sweeney, who got one postseason at-bat.
Posted: October 25, 2010

LATE SATURDAY NIGHT, as the Phillies clubhouse slowly cleared in the wake of a stunning loss to the Giants in the National League Championship Series, Chad Durbin shared a lighthearted moment he had with his wife Crystal, who was accompanying him on a recent road trip. As the team charter sailed high above the country, the reliever joked about what might be his waning days in the organization.

"I'm probably not going to be hanging out with you at all," Durbin said, a wistful smile on his face as he recalled the conversation.

Durbin is one of a select few veterans who spent the stretch run savoring his time with a group of teammates who, over the course of a 162-game season, can grow into extended family. The Phillies enter the offseason with six veterans who are likely to become free agents once the signing period begins 5 days after the World Series ends.

The headliner is rightfielder Jayson Werth, whose departure could leave a gaping hole in the middle of the order after a three-season stretch in which he averaged 29 home runs and 18 stolen bases while hitting .279 with a .376 on base percentage and .889 OPS. But there are several other familiar names in the group, including Durbin, ageless starter Jamie Moyer, reliever Jose Contreras, midseason acquisition Mike Sweeney and lefty specialist J.C. Romero.

Durbin, Werth, Romero and Moyer all have been teammates since the start of the 2008 season, which ended with the Phillies winning their first world title in 28 years.

If you were handicapping each player's odds of returning, Durbin would sit at the top of the list. Werth, who is expected to speak with the media later this week, seems destined to test a market that last season paid the top two free-agent outfielders $66 million over 4 years in the case of Jason Bay and $120 million over 7 years in the case of Matt Holliday. (Werth and Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford are widely considered to be the top two available bats this season.)

Werth has been a fixture at the No. 5 spot, providing a powerful righthanded bat in a lineup that features lefties Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. Howard said he has yet to contemplate a future that does not have Werth hitting behind him.

"Hopefully I won't have to," he said. "Hopefully they will get something done, and hopefully J-Dub will be back here next year."

Romero, who has a $4.25 million option that can be bought out for $250,000, logged just 53 1/3 innings over the last two seasons after posting a 2.75 ERA in 59 innings in 2008.

"No clue," the 34-year-old lefty said when asked of his chances of returning. "I'm blank right now. Don't know what's going to happen."

Moyer, who went 9-9 with a 4.84 ERA before suffering a season-ending elbow injury in late July, was a fixture in the rotation since the Phillies acquired him from the Mariners in August 2006. The 47-year-old Souderton native was the oldest player in the majors this season, but says he is determined to pitch next season. In 4-plus years with the Phillies, he is 56-40 with a 4.55 ERA, but the Phillies have two young righthanders in Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley who are options for the final spot in the rotation next season.

"I don't want to go to spring training and be a comedy act," said Moyer, who is planning on making a few starts in the Dominican winter league this season. "If I'm going to pitch, I'm going to go somewhere, whether it is here or another team, and compete for a job."

Sweeney joined the team in a trade with the Mariners shortly after Ryan Howard landed on the disabled list with a sprained ankle in August. The 37-year-old veteran had just 53 at-bats with the Phillies, one of them in the postseason. This was his first postseason after 16 years in the majors, but there is no obvious role for him moving forward.

As the Giants celebrated their 3-2, series-clinching victory at Citizens Bank Park, Sweeney lingered in the home dugout watching the festivities and contemplating a future that might result in his retirement.

"It's really hard to take off this uniform," he said later, "because I don't know if I'll ever be able to wear a major league uniform again."

Contreras, a bargain-basement offseason signing who played a big role in the Phillies bullpen, also has an uncertain future.

The Phillies have at least $135.35 million committed to 16 players next season after opening 2010 with a payroll of around $136 million. How much they are willing to expand their spending on salaries is unclear.

The most uncertain spot on the team is the bullpen, where the only players under contract are closer Brad Lidge, setup man Ryan Madson and righthander Danys Baez, who struggled in 2010 and was left off the postseason roster. The Phillies have a number of young arms under their control who will compete for spots, including postseason-roster members David Herndon and Antonio Bastardo.

Durbin, an under-the-radar signing who has played a big role for the team over the last three seasons, does not have a good read on his chances of returning.

"My gut says it's 50-50," said the 32-year-old workhorse, who has posted a 3.62 ERA in 226 innings since joining the team in 2008.

For at least the next week, most of these Phillies will watch the Giants play the Rangers in the World Series and wonder about what might have been. They were heavy favorites to win their third straight National League title, but ended up losing to a San Francisco squad that trumped them in both pitching and opportunism. They struggled on offense throughout the year and found themselves pummeled by injuries to their veteran lineup.

"Sometimes, a wakeup call is a good thing in the long run," Romero said.

At some point, the Phillies will be able to appreciate the vast amount of good they accomplished during a trying campaign. In the meantime, disappointment and questions are all that remain.

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/HighCheese.

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