We need to sign Ryan Howard to a long-term deal. You've mentioned a lot that he won't be non-tendered or traded, but the longer the Phillies wait, the more money it will cost. Why hasn't he been signed to a long-term deal?
-- Nick M., Delran, N.J.

The simple answer is that the Phillies don't have to, because of Howard's position on the baseball totem pole. He's still a low man, as far as salary structure. As I've stated, in the unlikely event that he's traded or non-tendered (essentially released), he can't be a free agent until after the 2011 season, so there's no urgency.

The team can offer Howard a long-term contract or let the arbitration process play out for the next four years. (Howard is classified as a "super two" player, and thus receives an extra year of arbitration eligibility). If they let it go this year, they can revisit their thinking each year along the way.

Last January, the team signed Chase Utley for seven years and $85 million. The Cardinals' Albert Pujols signed for seven years and $100 million in 2004, before his first round of arbitration eligibility. The Phillies would like to have such discussions with Howard to avoid a process that can at times turn contentious.

Signing a long-term contract is a trade-off for the player, who sacrifices some earning potential for the security of guaranteed money. Howard has to ask himself how much he's willing to give up. The Phils, on the other hand, may wait before committing. Perhaps the team is leery regarding Howard's production after 2011, when he will be 32.

Either way, Howard will get a pay increase from the $900,000 he earned last season. For comparison, the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera got a salary bump to $7.4 million from $472,000 in 2006 with the Marlins. Also, Howard will be the first baseman on Opening Day 2008 and likely well beyond that.

What are the Phillies' plans for Scott Mathieson? Do you think they will give him a shot at the 'pen, or do they still see him as a starter?
-- Morey S., Elkins Park, Pa.

They're torn. They love his high-90s fastball coming out of the bullpen in the seventh and eighth innings. They also love his size, which they feel allows him to be a 200-inning horse in a starting rotation.

Assuming his surgically repaired right elbow responds, his role in 2008 depends on the team's need. He'll likely start in Triple-A, so he can slide into either role.

Did you see Jamie Moyer at the Seattle Seahawks' playoff game going nuts in the crowd? Any chance the Phanatic will have a sidekick in a few years?
-- Ricky H., Forked River, N.J.

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I didn't see Moyer going nuts in the crowd, as I was busy getting "ready" to attend the Steelers' game at Heinz Field. I'm not surprised to hear Moyer cheering for his beloved Seahawks. I checked in with the Phanatic, and got the sense that the team's mascot prefers to work alone.

Brett Myers is the No. 2 starter. Are there any concerns about his poor performance last year as a starter?
-- Steven D., Nashville, Tenn.

Last season is a tiny sample size, so the team isn't concerned that Myers struggled in the two starts that followed his first career Opening Day assignment. The right-hander had two nice seasons in '05 and '06 to evolve into a pitcher who could be counted on, and the Phillies have no reason to think otherwise.

Myers admits that he'll have to re-adjust to starting once every five days rather than possibly pitching every day, in terms of pitch selection and physical condition, but that shouldn't be too difficult.

What are the Phillies going to do about a third baseman for 2008? Are they going to look into free agents or stay with Greg Dobbs, Wes Helms and possibly Jayson Werth?
-- Matt E., Pottstown, Pa.

Werth isn't even a remote possibility at the hot corner. Dobbs and Helms will share the position.

Who do you think will be the new general manager once Pat Gillick leaves at the end of 2008?
-- Jay M., Reading, Pa.

If Gillick decides to retire after the season, when his contract expires, the Phillies would have three in-house candidates in Ruben Amaro Jr., Mike Arbuckle and Chuck LaMar. Of course, there's still the possibility of bringing in an outside person, much as they did with Gillick in 2006.

You said the Phillies went in a different direction when they signed Chad Durbin. Do you think that's going to mean much?
-- Bob B., Burlington, N.J.

The different direction answer was in response to a question regarding the possibility of signing Kris Benson. They watched Benson throw and decided that Durbin was a better option, largely because the right-hander can be a long man out of the bullpen, as well as a starter.

I know Scott Rolen couldn't wait to leave Philly, but do you think there is any way the Phillies can get him back? It doesn't seem like he's too happy in St. Louis, either.
-- Randall F., Louisville, Ky.

I can't say this any clearer. Rolen will not return to Philadelphia.

Have the Phillies entertained offers for any of their "Big Three?" The Angels or Dodgers could offer plenty for Howard. The Red Sox could be perfect in a trade for Jimmy Rollins.
-- Thomas B., Rising Sun, Md.

Their names probably come up occasionally, and the subject is often quickly changed. Howard, Rollins and Utley are the core -- along with Myers and Cole Hamels -- and none of them will be dealt any time soon.