It surprised people because the Phillies and Howard seemed remarkably far apart during previous contract negotiations -- so far apart that the Phillies and Howard seemed destined for a second consecutive salary arbitration hearing, the latest scheduled for Friday in Arizona. And it seemed that the Phillies and Howard would repeat this process until he became a free agent after the 2011 season.
"We're pleased to have gotten this behind us," Amaro said during a news conference at Citizens Bank Park. "I think it's important for the players to worry about playing baseball. To get them ready to defend our title."
Howard will make $15 million this season, $19 million in 2010 and $20 million in 2011 -- an average of $18 million over the three seasons. Only Alex Rodriguez ($28 million), Jason Giambi ($23.4 million), Derek Jeter ($21.6 million), Manny Ramirez ($18.9 million) and Carlos Beltran ($18.6 million) made more last season.
Howard's salary jumps $1 million in 2010 and 2011 if he is named the National League Most Valuable Player the preceding seasons. He receives other performance bonuses (such as winning a Gold Glove Award, All-Star appearances) as well as $1 million if he is traded before Nov. 1, 2010.
"I'm happy to have this done and to know that I'll be in Philadelphia for at least another three years," Howard said in a statement. "Both sides are happy, and now I'm just focused on getting the season started and having fun."
The extension is a good thing for the Phillies, who can now enter upcoming offseasons with a better sense of what their payroll will be.
Cost certainty is important as the Phillies try to assess whom to pursue in the free-agent market or which of their own players to sign to extensions as they did this offseason for Howard, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson and Jayson Werth.
Howard had requested $18 million this year, while the Phillies offered $14 million. A $4 million gap is significant, so the Phillies had to work this offseason budgeting for the extra millions they might have to pay.
"We know where we're at with the dollars on him," Amaro said. "My job is to try to put a championship-caliber club on the field every single year, and knowing exactly where the dollars are going to be over the next several years on some of our higher-priced players, it helps me a lot."
The Phillies have an impressive core signed for the next few years, including Jimmy Rollins (signed through 2010, with a 2011 club option), Brad Lidge (signed through 2011, with a 2012 club option), Hamels (signed through 2011) and Chase Utley (signed through 2013).
The Phillies' payroll already is more than $128 million, and that doesn't include salaries for Carlos Ruiz, Chris Coste and Ronny Paulino. By the time everything is finished, the Phillies' payroll could be more than $130 million.
Amaro said that the Phillies had talked with Howard's agent, Casey Close, and Howard's family for some time. He wouldn't get into specifics, but he said they talked about several scenarios that would lock up Howard to a long-term deal.
Asked if he was disappointed that the Phillies couldn't sign Howard to a longer deal, which would have bought out a year or two of his first free-agent years, Amaro said, "I don't know if 'disappointment' is the way to depict it. ... It's three years, and it's a significantly long time. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion it was the right thing to do."
There had been speculation that the parties had reached an impasse of sorts on a multiyear contract, with Howard believed to be seeking a contract at least in line with the eight-year, $180 million contract Mark Teixeira received from the New York Yankees. The belief held by countless baseball insiders was that the Phillies might have to go to arbitration year to year until Howard became a free agent.
There also had been speculation that the parties simply didn't get along, although there was no evidence of any animosity. Perhaps that sentiment came from the fact that the Phillies renewed Howard's contract in 2006 and 2007 before he won a record $10 million in arbitration in 2008.
In other words, Howard hadn't agreed to a contract the Phillies had offered him for the last three years.
"No negotiation is simple, but the goal is always the same," Amaro said. "Get a deal done, and get a deal that is equitable. We've been trying to build a relationship with Casey and Ryan and the family, and I think that at the end of the day, we got done what was necessary, and frankly, it was the right thing to do for our organization. ... Things that happened prior with Ryan, I don't know why, but they were being depicted in a different way. They weren't adversarial. It was just a matter of us agreeing to disagree, and that happens a lot in any kind of business. I don't think it made us love Ryan any less, and I don't think Ryan loved us any less."
But right now, they love each other. Fifty-four million dollars has a way of doing that.