By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
October 10, 2007
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Charlie Manuel might not be the only one earning a big contract from the NL East champs.
Now that the Philadelphia Phillies have signed their manager to a contact extension that could keep him in red pinstripes through the end of the decade, they're prepared to bump their payroll to a franchise high and ensure he has a contending team.
OK, so the payroll won't rival what the New York Yankees pay out every year, but pushing the salaries well past the nine-figure mark might be enough for the Phillies to keep All-Star center fielder Aaron Rowand and add the pitching help they need.
Team president David Montgomery said on Wednesday that the Phillies spent about $103 million in player salaries in 2007 and expects next year's figure to be "in that ballpark, or higher."
The Phillies' opening day payroll has stayed steady at about $90-95 million the last few years. But with a need to sign key free agents like Rowand and reliever J.C. Romero, MVP Ryan Howard eligible for salary arbitration, and holes at third base and in the bullpen, the Phillies will likely have to go deep past that $100 million mark to make another run at the postseason.
General manager Pat Gillick expected ownership to be aggressive.
"It just depends on the players available," he said.
Their first choice would be keeping Rowand in center. Rowand was an instant fan favorite with his diving catches and scrappy attitude, and he emerged as a perfect fit in the clubhouse. But the Phillies might not be willing to give him a deal similar to the $30 million, three-year contract extension Arizona's Eric Byrnes signed.
"We like Aaron. Aaron likes us. Where the road leads us, I don't know," Montgomery said.
If Rowand leaves, they could fill his spot by moving speedy Shane Victorino from right to center or use Michael Bourn in center. But Gillick said starting next season with an outfield combination of Jayson Werth, Bourn and Victorino would "be a stretch."
Gillick's wish list also includes an upgrade at third base over the trio of Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs and Abraham Nunez.
"We need to improve third base," Gillick said.
At least the Phillies are secure in who will manage the team.
Often ridiculed for his accent or his decision making, no one could doubt the way the Phillies responded to the folksy Manuel.
Manuel agreed to a two-year contract with a club option for 2010 on Tuesday night after he led them to their first NL East title since 1993.
"The power the manager has, the hammer, is the length of his deal," Manuel said.
Manuel was rewarded for rallying the Phillies to the division title on the final day of the season. It took a historic collapse by the New York Mets -- they became the first team in major league history to blow a seven-game lead with 17 remaining -- for the Phillies to finish one game ahead in the standings.
The Phillies were swept 3-0 by the Colorado Rockies in Philadelphia's first postseason appearance in 14 years. The Phillies won their only World Series in 1980.
"Winning the East was very big for us this year," Manuel said. "If we can improve our team a little bit, I see no reason in the world we can't finish our business."
The 63-year-old Manuel led the Phillies to an 89-73 record in his third season with the team.
"This is the best attitude, best chemistry of any team I've been around," Manuel said. "I'm very glad to be a big part of that."
Manuel, who previously managed the Cleveland Indians, is 262-224 in three years in Philadelphia. Among Phillies managers, Manuel reached 250 wins in the fewest games since Pat Moran managed the club from 1915-18.
"It never came to our mind that we'd make a change," Gillick said.
The Phillies fizzled in the playoffs and the league's highest-scoring team scored only eight runs in three games against Colorado and batted just .172 (16-for-93) with 26 strikeouts during the series.
The players, however, love Manuel, who hardly seemed bothered this season by his uncertain future. Manuel kept his team together through the slow start and injuries that decimated his staff.
The Phillies started 4-11 in April and, at one point, didn't have projected ace Freddy Garcia or Jon Lieber in the rotation and were without closers Tom Gordon and Brett Myers.
Both Garcia and Lieber went down for the season in June, and Gordon and Myers each missed two months. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, ace Cole Hamels, Victorino and Bourn and reliever Ryan Madson also missed significant time.
Manuel knows where he wants the Phillies to spend their free-agent bucks.
"We need a big pitcher to go with Hamels, for sure," he said.
Gillick and Manuel will discuss the future of the coaching staff this week.
Updated on Wednesday, Oct 10, 2007 3:31 pm, EDT