CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ryan Howard smacked his longest home run on Thursday morning, setting a new record with a $10 million judgment in salary arbitration. A three-person panel of Stephen Goldberg, Robert Bailey and Jack Clarke awarded Howard that figure instead of the $7 million offered by the Phillies. The historic amount is the highest received by a first-year arbitration-eligible player, trumping then-Marlin Miguel Cabrera's $7.4 million last season. "My reaction is mostly relief now that the whole process is over," Howard said. "It was interesting. Any way you look at it is a win-win, because it's a substantial raise. [Winning was] some good news."
It's also great news if you're Howard or players like the Brewers' Prince Fielder and the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman, who are next in line. It's potentially bad news for Philadelphia, which may find it increasingly difficult to keep its slugging first baseman happy. Assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., the point person for this process, said he negotiated with Howard's agent, Casey Close, until the hearing began at Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Hotel in St. Petersburg. Regardless of any long-term hard feelings that may or may not have arisen, Howard can't become a free agent until after the 2011 season, and the Phillies can revisit talks on a multiyear contract down the road. "We negotiated right up to the courthouse steps with Ryan in a variety of ways and couldn't get it done," Amaro said. "[The judgment] is fresh in our minds right now. We'll just worry about getting ready for the season and moving forward. This isn't the time to start discussing the future with Ryan Howard." When that future arrives, it could be difficult to negotiate with the team's second-highest-paid player. Howard is believed to be seeking in excess of the seven-year, $100 million contract extension Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols received in 2004, and his asking price may be higher than that. Both sides said the hearing wasn't contentious. "I don't think it got too bad or out of hand," Howard said. "They did what they had to do to present their case." The previous highest amount by a player who won his case was the $8.2 million scored by then-Braves center fielder Andruw Jones in 2001. Jones then had four years of service time. Alfonso Soriano matched Howard's $10 million from the Nationals in '06, but that came in a loss. Soriano requested $12 million.
"[Howard is] picking up the tabs on dinners from now on," quipped Jayson Werth.Howard said he had no extra bounce in his step after receiving the news, and his teammates claimed it was the same jovial teammate that they've always known -- albeit a much wealthier one. The Phillies endured their first loss in arbitration, falling to 7-1 since the process began in 1974. They had defeated Jerry Koosman ('85), Alan Knicely ('86), Kevin Gross ('87), Dickie Thon ('91), Dale Sveum ('92), Willie Banks ('96) and Travis Lee (2001). The team argued that Howard's limited Major League service time -- two years and 145 days -- should place him in a certain place on the economic scale. Howard steered clear of characterizing his stance on signing a multiyear deal, and he didn't want to address whether he might be heading for another arbitration hearing next season. "We'll have to wait and see," he said, smiling. "I'm not [psychic] Miss Cleo." Is he open to a long-term deal? "Always," Howard said. "I'm sure there's going to be talks and discussions. I'm not going to focus on it now. I'm the kind of guy who will cross that bridge when you get to it. I'm focused on '08. We'll see what happens when we get to '09. There's always risks. It's a risky business." Does Howard see himself finishing his career in Philadelphia? "It would be nice," Howard said. "It's one of those things we'll have to wait and see what happens."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.