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02/17/09 12:08 PM EST

Winning title gave Phils economic lift

Philadelphia sells 24,000 season tickets, has $131.5M payroll

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies would love to win the World Series every year, but a championship in 2008 seemed especially fortuitous.

While few people seem completely immune from the country's current economic issues, the Phillies are in better shape than most teams. Their estimated $131.5 million Opening Day payroll is a franchise record.

It's more than a 25 percent increase from their Opening Day payroll for 2008.

"The interest this offseason has been very, very strong and there's no question that has enabled us to perhaps be more aggressive than we might have been otherwise," Phillies president David Montgomery said Monday from his corner office at Bright House Field.

Imagine for a moment that the Phillies don't sweep the Milwaukee Brewers in a four-game series in September at Citizens Bank Park to catapult themselves back into postseason contention.

Imagine they don't win the National League East.

Imagine the Brewers edge them for the NL Wild Card.

Could the Phillies have signed Ryan Howard to a three-year, $54 million contract extension? How about the three-year, $20.5 million contract extension that Cole Hamels signed? Or the three-year, $31.5 million deal the Phillies gave to Raul Ibanez to replace Raul Ibanez in left field?

"We probably wouldn't be sitting here saying we know we have sold nearly 24,000 season tickets," Montgomery said. "It would probably be a number similar to last year, maybe not even as strong. So we would have definitely been doing the offseason differently. I don't know if it would have manifested itself in multiyear deals or whether it would have manifested itself in not being able to add a player like Ibanez.

"It's tough for me to be able to say specifically what would have been different, but the answer is, yes, it absolutely would have been different. We are where we are because of the team's success and the resulting fan support."

The Phillies have sold nearly 24,000 season tickets for 2009. They had sold 20,300 season tickets by the end of the 2008 season.

That is an 18.2 percent increase.

Corporate sponsorships and individual ticket sales also are expected to remain strong.

But the Phillies will need to keep winning to maintain that support. Because if season ticket sales shrink in 2010 or 2011 or beyond, they might have to make tough decisions.

Fortunately, they have several of their star players locked up for the immediate future. In theory, that means the Phillies should remain competitive for the next few years. The Phillies already have 11 players (Ryan Howard, Brad Lidge, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jamie Moyer, Cole Hamels, J.C. Romero, Jayson Werth, Ryan Madson, Greg Dobbs and Ibanez) signed for next season at $95.5 million.

They have four players (Howard, Lidge, Utley and Ibanez) signed for 2010 at $58 million.

Of course, the Phillies must continue to develop young talent because they can't afford to keep everybody.

"We better start developing some zero-to-three [service time] guys because the last thing you want to do is be so dependent on your group that you can't augment it," Montgomery said. "Hopefully, we've done that well. And hopefully we'll get some of the guys currently in the Minors to join us shortly."

Players with zero to three years of big league service time are ineligible for salary arbitration, which means teams control their salaries. From the time a player reaches three years of service time, he is eligible for salary arbitration, until he becomes a free agent after at least six seasons.

But right now the Phillies are living in the present, and they feel lucky to be where they are.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.