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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ryan Howard Sets a Record

The Phillies, of course, were hoping that a headline like this would arise during or after a season, and not before one.

Which is precisely what he did, winning his arbitration and getting awarded a salary of $10 million for the season (the Phillies had offered $7 million). It's the first time the Phillies have lost an arbitration (they were 7-0 going into this season), and Howard sets a record for how much a player with his service time has ever been awarded.

The Phillies had been in negotiations for a long-term contract, and published reports indicate that Howard was asking well north of the 7-year, $84 million contract Chase Utley signed last season. The question, of course, is how much north, but you have to believe he's looking for something like 7 years at a minimum of $15 million per year. (That type of deal would take him to when he's 35 years old).

Whatever the case, with his stunning victory today, it would appear that the cost of signing Ryan Howard just went up. Howard doesn't become a free agent until the 2011 season, so the Phillies will have him around for a while. It seems to make sense for the parties to reach a long-term deal now that the arbitrators have put some sort of lower boundary on his value. After all, it's hard to imagine that they'll do an arbitration dance for two more seasons.

To both parties' credit, they acted very professionally during the whole discussion and took pains to keep the back-and-forth out of the media. Howard looked upbeat (and in great shape) in Florida, and the Phillies' brass, even with today's comments, has put a good face on it.

Phillies' fans, of course, have cause for pause, given the messy exits of Scott Rolen (who in my view is wrongly reviled for leaving town when he spoke the truth about the ownership's commitment to fielding a championship-caliber team at the time) and Curt Schilling. So, if they're worried about losing Howard, they have a right to be. Still, something tells me that the current view of ownership squares with the fans' perception of this team -- that the troika of Howard, Utley and Jimmy Rollins is something very special and not to be trifled with. Perhaps that's the never-ending optimism of a fan, but the negativity that existed among ownership, then-GM Ed Wade and Rolen and Schilling seems totally absent here.

And there's one more difference -- it appears that Howard is reasonably happy in Philadelphia, whereas the relationships between the team and Rolen and Schilling, respectively, had deteriorated significantly by the time both were traded. That's a significant difference, and since both parties seem willing and positive, it's more likely than not that they'll get a deal done.


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