Phillies renew Howard's contract

Phillies renew Howard's contract

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Only Ryan Howard knows the degree to which he is happy or unhappy, though his swing on Friday showed no signs of him being upset.

Hours after having his contract renewed for $900,000, Howard punished a pitch in his second Grapefruit League plate appearance -- physically sending it out of Bright House Networks Field, near a pond believed to contain alligators.

"[The sound] was real loud in the dugout," manager Charlie Manuel said.

It likely won't be as loud as the potential uproar caused by what is baseball's rite of passage, when younger players learn about the existing salary structure, regardless of what amazing accomplishments may already have been achieved. In Howard's case, said feats are substantial.

After exhausting talks on a one-year and multi-year deal with Howard's agent, Casey Close, the Phillies renewed the contract of the reigning National League MVP on the first day teams could renew unsigned players not eligible for salary arbitration.

"It's just part of the process," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "To me, it's no harm, no foul. Sometimes, people agree to disagree, and that's what happened. I think we're being appropriate."

Before announcing the renewal, the Phillies explored the possibility of a multi-year deal with Howard, but couldn't reach an agreement. That doesn't mean they won't at some point, and Howard can't become a free agent until after the 2011 season.

Still, Howard's salary is the largest paid to a player with fewer than two years of service time, trumping the $690,000 earned by Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood in 1999. It matches that of St. Louis' Albert Pujols, who earned that figure in the year before becoming eligible for salary arbitration.

"We discussed a variety of things," Amaro said. "It's our goal to keep our star players in red pinstripes and we're going to work to that end. We didn't get to the finish line on this, but we'll have continued talks on this one."

Howard belted 58 homers en route to earning the NL MVP Award in 2006, but had no leverage in negotiations. The $900,000 is a flat rate, and doesn't include any performance bonuses for making the All-Star Game or for earning another MVP.

The Phillies were believed to have offered a one-year deal for more guaranteed money, with incentives that could've pushed the value significantly higher if Howard compiled similar statistics to 2006.

Howard's camp opted for the renewal figure, without the incentives, perhaps sending a message that there's a disagreement in terms of value. Pujols made $900,000 after two full seasons, which included a Rookie of the Year award and a second-place finish in the MVP voting.

Howard is ahead of Pujols on the salary curve.

"We felt like $900,000 is a fair and just number," Amaro said. "Ryan is a special player, and we think we've treated him in a special way. We hope to try to do something more substantial in the future."

Amaro maintained that the Phillies are committed to keeping Howard well beyond the 2011 season, when he would be eligible for free agency. The focus now shifts to a long-term deal, which will be broached soon, definitely next winter.

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How tough a signing Howard becomes can't be measured, since there is no precedent. He's only the second Major Leaguer in history (after Cal Ripken Jr.) to follow a Rookie of the Year season with a MVP season.

Was it fair?

"Obviously, in my mind, it doesn't matter," Howard said. "It is what it is. We renewed, so obviously, there were differences or what not and you can't change it. There's no reason to cry over spilled milk."

Asked if he felt this might affect future negotiations -- when he'll have much more leverage -- Howard pointed to his renewal last season.

"I did the same thing last year, and I don't think it burned any bridges," Howard said. "The whole contract situation is done. I get paid to put on a uniform and perform. Now, you try to go out and win the team a championship."

Howard will do that by hitting home runs and driving in runs, and the Phillies believe he'll be paid handsomely to do that. Assuming he duplicates his 2006 statistics, Howard will earn $15,517 per homer and $6,040 per RBI. If his salary seems low, it's the rite of passage that every young player goes though.

Even an NL MVP.

"Everybody knows that I'm not arbitration-eligible," Howard said. "The team holds all the cards. They had their side and I had mine and obviously we didn't come to terms. It's a little frustrating and a little disappointing, but that's the business aspect. Now you use it as a starting point and go out and play. It's all behind us."

Said Amaro: "Obviously, this is a special player with special accomplishments. While we tried to acknowledge that in our discussions and our negotiations, ultimately we couldn't get there. We felt the number was substantial and equitable, based on what he had done. What the average fan probably doesn't understand is people are paid based on their Major League service and their contribution. When they get closer to arbitration and are in that process, they get paid differently when you're a first-time eligible, [and so forth]."

Howard will be eligible for arbitration after the 2007 season, and the sides will again discuss a long-term deal. Because Howard is a "super two" player based on service time, he could potentially have four arbitration years. Florida's Miguel Cabrera is a good test case there, because he earned $7.4 million as a first-year arbitration-eligible player. Howard could be worth even more.

If Howard is seeking Alfonso Soriano-type money -- as the whispers indicated -- the process could get sticky. More than likely, the Phillies will use Chase Utley's seven-year, $85-million deal, and Pujols' seven-year, $100 million pact after his third season as a measuring stick.

"The bottom line is this: We like to pay players what they are worth, and if he continues to perform the way he's performed, we have no problem," Amaro said. "This is part of the process. It's not a concern. At this moment, we didn't get to the finish line with this particular deal. Can we do it the future? Perhaps."

The members of Phillies Nation certainly hope so.

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