Mailbag: Howard's contract situation

Mailbag: Howard's contract situation

Will Ryan Howard return in 2008? He's headed for arbitration and I'm worried he might not return.
-- Nick M., Hatfield, Pa.

Breathe, Nick. Barring a trade, Howard will man first base in Philadelphia for at least the next four seasons. He can't be a free agent until after the 2011 campaign. The arbitration process that he's going through is a standard procedure for players who reach his level of service time, or amount of time spent in the Major Leagues. This is simply a process that will determine his 2008 salary. He'll earn either the club-submitted $7 million or the $10 million he requested.

Do the Phillies have a plan to acquire the hitting they lost with the departure of Aaron Rowand?
-- Wayne H., Delran, N.J.

The plan is for Geoff Jenkins to replace Rowand's offense, something he will do for considerably less money. Shane Victorino's ability to play center field allowed the Phillies to pursue a power-hitting corner outfielder, and Jenkins was high on their list from the start.

I've also received questions regarding Jenkins' place in the Phillies' lineup. While manager Charlie Manuel will try a few options in Spring Training, Jenkins is a prime candidate to bat sixth, behind Pat Burrell.

I read recently that Kyle Lohse has tempered his demands from a four-year deal. Does that put the Phillies back in the picture?
-- Saurin M., Horsham, Pa.

It might. The Phillies and Lohse's agent, Scott Boras, keep in touch, though much of the contact has been on Boras' end, as he tries to keep as many teams involved as possible. Philadelphia has been in and out on Lohse all offseason, and it appears satisfied to let Chad Durbin be its insurance policy should one of the five starters falter or suffer an injury.

Is Chris Coste going to have to go through this thing all over again, or is he set?
-- Deuce D., Philadelphia

I assume by "this thing," you're referring to Coste's odyssey last season, when despite batting .328 in his rookie season in 2006, the team acquired Rod Barajas and forced Coste to the Minors for a good portion of 2007. He found his way back and ended the season working effectively with Carlos Ruiz. This year, there has been no "Barajas" signing, and general manager Pat Gillick is on record as saying that he's "comfortable" with Coste as Ruiz's backup.

Perhaps it's best to allow the always-realistic Coste answer this, as he did last week while in town for the start of the team's annual winter tour.

"I would never use the word 'comfortable,' but I would say it's a better feeling because at least it appears for the first time that I have the ball in my court a little bit," he said. "If I have a bad Spring Training, I know I could be out of here. But if I do well, I know that will be enough. Finally, it feels good to walk into the clubhouse and at least have a good opportunity."

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With the possibility of Burrell being a free agent after 2008, what kind of interest will he attract? I'd like to see him stay and he's said he'd like to. Will he get a contract close to what he has now?
-- James S., West Grove, Pa.

Burrell has entered the "contract year" of his career, and a great 2008 season will go a long way in determining the length and money he'll be offered on the open market. The 31-year-old has long stated his love for Philadelphia, but that love must be returned for Burrell to remain with Phillies beyond 2008.

A lot can happen this season, so it's too early to try to place Burrell, in say, the Carlos Lee category or any other category at this point. Despite some subpar batting averages, Burrell has produced 29-32 homers and 95-117 RBIs for the past three seasons. That will be worth something to somebody.

I haven't heard much about Ryan Madson. How's his shoulder doing?
-- David D., Womelsdorf, Pa.

Madson said in October that his right shoulder is 100 percent and he's ready for Spring Training. He was a possibility to pitch in the National League Championship Series, if the Phillies had gotten that far. He's expected to lock down the seventh inning this season.

Are there any prospects who might surprise and make the team out of Spring Training?
-- Eric M., Philadelphia

Not likely on the offensive side. On the pitching side, Manuel keeps mentioning hard-throwing Joe Bisenius as a possibility. The righty made the team last season and spent the first week of the season in the big leagues. He had control issues at Triple-A Ottawa, and he will have to show an improvement to be considered. Scott Mathieson is another name to keep an eye on. A healthy and effective spring may land him in the bullpen.

I liked what I saw out of Francisco Rosario last year, despite his limited exposure. He had a live arm and his control seemed to improve. What are the plans for Rosario in 2008?
-- Darin K., Ewing, N.J.

Rosario is a bullpen candidate. He's out of Minor League options, so he'll be given a long look. If he's not going to make the Phillies, the righty must clear waivers -- where he could be claimed by any team -- before he can be optioned to the Minors.

When do the Phillies hold open tryouts? I played high school baseball and I believe I have the skills to help the team in 2008. I'm slightly overweight, but I could give Shane Victorino a run for his position.
-- Lou K., Morrisville, Pa.

Phantasy Camp may be your best bet. The Phillies usually run those at the end of January.

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