Philly has become the place to play
Club's recent success has made city popular destination
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jayson Werth remembers the questions he heard when he arrived in Philadelphia in December 2006:
Why would you sign with the Phillies?
Aren't you scared of the fans?
Why, man? Why?
"It was Philly this and Philly that," Werth said. "It was more about the city than the team. But here we are four years later, and Philly is the No. 1 place to play. Everybody wants to come here because of the atmosphere, the crowds, the fans, the sellouts. That's not the way it was a short time ago."
A short time ago, players happily pressed the ejection button to leave Philadelphia. But it seems every few weeks, there is a comment from a former Phillies player who seems genuinely saddened or upset to be in a different uniform.
The latest is right-hander Chan Ho Park, who signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract with the Yankees. The Phils offered Park a one-year contract worth slightly more than $3 million, plus a club option for 2011. Park initially balked, but by the time he came around, Philadelphia had signed Danys Baez and Jose Contreras to take his place.
Park said at a news conference Sunday that Philadelphia was his No. 1 choice.
Park followed Cliff Lee, who by all accounts was stunned to be traded to Seattle. Brett Myers wanted to remain in Philadelphia, but Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. wanted to move on. Pat Burrell has missed the Phillies since he signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Rays. Aaron Rowand signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the Giants, but he has not been in the postseason since he left the Phils in 2007.
On the flip side, Roy Halladay left millions on the table to join the Phillies. The right-hander signed a three-year, $60 million extension to leave Toronto, but he would have received much more had he reached the open market.
"I was on the other side of it," Jimmy Rollins said. "I was always playing on this team and guys were like, 'What would it be like to play for the Braves or the Mets?' You'd sit there and watch them and they were smiling and bouncing around, because they knew they were going to the playoffs.
"And you're here, like, 'Do people even care about the Phillies? Are we the laughingstock?' And that's kind of how you felt, because you had basically no foundation to stand on. No foundation of winning. No precedence of this is a good organization to go to, because they're going to do what it takes to win. It just wasn't there."
That has changed.
"It was Philly this and Philly that. It was more about the city than the team. But here we are four years later, and Philly is the No. 1 place to play. Everybody wants to come here because of the atmosphere, the crowds, the fans, the sellouts. That's not the way it was a short time ago."
|-- Jayson Werth|
They are NL favorites again in 2010.
Of course, what player wouldn't want to be on a winning team? But Rollins and Werth said it is runs deeper than just wins and losses.
"It started with a good group of guys before the winning," Rollins said. "It started with a belief. It doesn't happen overnight. It's been building. But the word is out, and that's a good thing. I always said, 'What would it be like to have a player say I want to go here? Why can't we have that in Philadelphia?' Well, good guys, a belief in winning and then showing it on the field, it's happened."
"Atmosphere in the workplace," Werth said. "You could pick a company, it wouldn't be as much fun or as rewarding as coming to play for the Phillies."
Players then have a fine line to walk. Do they stay for potentially less money to remain in an organization they like? Or do they take the better (and maybe fairer) offer to play elsewhere?
The Phillies made Lee an offer believed to be slightly less than the three-year, $60 million they offered Halladay. Amaro has said that he received strong indications from Lee's representative that Lee would be difficult to sign to an extension, which prompted him to move forward on Halladay and trade Lee to Seattle.
Lee has said they made a counteroffer the day he was traded, but at that point, the Phils had a deal with Halladay in place (or close to it).
"You don't want to leave this situation," Chad Durbin said. "It's kind of an incubator to get better. I think a lot of guys feed off that, especially guys that have been around a little while. They know that if they go to a team that's rebuilding they might get paid, but they're not going to win. This situation is unique. It's a core group that gets along really well and they all want to continue to win. What you hear is not lip service. Definitely not. You hear lip service a lot, but you don't want to leave this place."
Players like Durbin and Werth will be free agents after the season, and they might have tough decisions to make. The Phillies already have at least $130.35 million committed in 2011 to Halladay ($20 million), Ryan Howard ($20 million), Chase Utley ($15 million), Brad Lidge ($11.5 million), Raul Ibanez ($11.5 million), Cole Hamels ($9.5 million), Rollins ($8.5 million), Joe Blanton ($8.5 million), Shane Victorino ($7.5 million), Placido Polanco ($5.25 million), Ryan Madson ($4.5 million), Carlos Ruiz ($2.75 million), Baez ($2.75 million), Ross Gload ($1.6 million) and Brian Schneider ($1.5 million).
It seems a certainty that if Werth has another good season, at least one team would be in better position to offer him more money than the Phils.
"That's a long way away," Werth said. "I haven't really thought about that. But I will tell you that playing for other teams, being in other places, seeing how other places do it, right here is the best place."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.