"I'll tell you something, we will be back," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after his club's attempt to win a second consecutive world championship was erased with Wednesday night's 7-3 loss in Game 6 to the Yankees.
As Ryan Howard and his teammates thought about the opportunities they'd squandered against the Yankees, many baseball executives found themselves realizing that this Phillies organization has already positioned itself to have legitimate hopes of becoming the first National League club since the 1944 Cardinals to make a third consecutive trip to the World Series.
"I think we're in a span right here within the next couple of years that's going to be very important for us," Manuel said. "I think it's going to be our heydays, as you might say. It's very important for the next couple of years that we stay afloat, but at the same time, I think we have the talent and I think we can tinker with our team enough to even get better."
When the Phillies acquired Cliff Lee from the Indians on July 29, they gained an ace that carried them to the brink of a second consecutive world championship. But more importantly, they gained a top-flight starter that will allow them to enter the offseason without the need to fortify or alter their starting rotation.
There isn't any reason to wonder whether the Phillies will exercise the $9 million option that is in Lee's current contract. But before doing, they'll likely approach the 31-year-old left-hander about the possibility of signing a contract extension that would keep him in Philadelphia beyond the 2010 season.
Lee will head a rotation next year that will likely also include Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ, who is coming off an impressive rookie season. Hamels is under contract and Blanton is arbitration-eligible. Given that they owe him $6.5 million, the Phillies have reason to at least begin the 2010 season with 47-year-old Jamie Moyer in their rotation.
Pedro Martinez and Opening Day starter Brett Myers will likely opt to sign elsewhere.
Carry a big stick
From an offensive perspective, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro won't have many offseason concerns about his potent lineup, which could return fully intact. The only starting position player who could potentially exit via free agency is third baseman Pedro Feliz, whose contract includes a $5 million option and $500,000 buyout for the 2010 season.
Along with keeping a potent lineup intact, the decisions this year to buy out the final arbitration-eligible seasons owed to Howard and Jayson Werth provided the Phillies financial certainty that could prove valuable as they enter this winter attempting to fix their only visible weakness -- their bullpen.
When Philadelphia gave Brad Lidge a $37.5 million, three-year contract extension midway through the 2008 season, the club knew that he wasn't going to be perfect like he was while converting each of his 48 save opportunities last year. But it certainly wasn't expecting to see him struggle like he did in 2009, when Lidge blew 11 of his 43 regular-season save opportunities and then provided a glimmer of postseason hope before struggling in Game 4 of the World Series.
Primary setup man Ryan Madson will return next year at a cost of $4.5 million, and left-handed reliever J.C. Romero is hopeful that his surgically-repaired left elbow will return to full strength by the start of Spring Training.
Left-handed reliever Scott Eyre entered this season thinking that it might be his last. But the 37-yer-old veteran was revitalized by the club's success, and the Phillies could opt to bring him back with the hope that he could be as productive as he was in 2009, when he posted a 1.50 ERA in 42 appearances.
Before looking elsewhere for bullpen help, the Phillies will also look at the possibility of re-signing Chan Ho Park, who enhanced his free-agent value by posting a 2.52 ERA in 38 relief appearances.
Right-handed relievers Chad Durbin and Clay Condrey are arbitration-eligible players who could return to next year's bullpen mix.
In terms of bench players, the Phillies have already locked up valuable pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs, who will make $1.35 million in 2010. Matt Stairs and veteran backup catcher Paul Bako are both eligible for free agency.