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Manuel, Phils agree to two-year extension with club option

PHILADELPHIA -- 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.