PHILADELPHIA - Jayson Werth negotiated his first contract at the kitchen table of his Illinois home in 1997.

The 18-year-old signed with the Baltimore Orioles for $885,000.

"I figured out then this is definitely a business," the Phillies' right fielder said. "This is not the same game I played every day in my grandparents' backyard."

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Werth, 31, is about to begin one of the most important stretches of his baseball business career. He is one of baseball's top free agents and super agent Scott Boras will negotiate his next contract. Boras' clients don't often stay with their current team and usually sign with the highest bidder.

Werth made it clear Monday that he's going to explore his options.

"Going forward, Philly will be one of the teams in consideration," he said. "It (free agency) is not something everybody gets to go through. It's going to be an exciting time, and something I've worked for my entire life. "

The offseason began in earnest Monday for the Phillies. The Giants eliminated Philadelphia with a 3-2 win in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night. Several players cleaned out their lockers, and both Werth and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. met the media.

The speculation all season long has been that the Phillies cannot afford to resign Werth because they already have $143 million committed to 16 players for next season.

Last season's top outfield free agent - Jason Bay - received a four-year, $66 million contract from the New York Mets.

But retaining Werth is an option, according to Amaro, who said he expected to speak with Boras in the next 48 hours.

"The questions are do we have enough money (to sign him) and would we like to bring him back?" Amaro said. "The answer to both questions is yes. But that will depend on what the asking price is and how that will affect us with other possible moves."

The Phillies also will consider how many years Werth wants.

"You have to weigh not only that person's production on and off the field, but that person's effect on the club short and long term," Amaro said.

Werth declined to say how many years and how much money he is looking for.

"That's something we'll discuss privately with the clubs," he said. "You want to be compensated fairly with your peers."

But he did say Philadelphia should be able to afford him.

"We know business is good here on Philadelphia," he said. "We have the most loyal fans in the game. They sell out every night. The economic side of the club is in good shape. They could probably sign whomever they want. Whether or not it's me we'll have to wait and see."

Werth came to the Phillies in 2007 as a part-time player. He missed all of 2006 with a wrist injury.

Pat Gillick, then the Philles' general manager, asked Werth in 2007 what his goals were.

"I told him my goal is to earn an everyday job and hit in the middle of your guy's order," Werth said. "He said, 'really.' I think four years later I accomplished my goals.

He became a full-time player in 2008 and his speed and power has made him one of baseball's top outfielders.

He holds the Phillies' postseason records for most home runs (11) and extra-base hits (21).

He has hit 87 home runs the past three seasons. Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers with 94 home runs is the only right handed outfielder to hit more.

Werth batted .296 with 27 home runs and 85 RBIs this season.

But Amaro noted his troubles hitting with runners in scoring position this season. Werth batted .186 in those situations.

"Jayson had a good year," Amaro said. "It wasn't an extraordinary year. It wasn't as productive a year as he's had in the past."

Whatever team Werth chooses, the situation probably will not be resolved quickly.

"I'm in no hurry," Werth said. "There's no reason to rush into this."

If Werth does leave, he would be tough to replace. He is the lone right-handed power bat in a Phillies lineup dominated by left-handed hitters.

"I feel like I fit in on this club," he said. "We have something not too many people have. We have an exciting dynamic club, and I think I'm a part of that."

For now.

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