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News » Phillies, Howard avoid arbitration with 3-year, $54 million deal


Phillies, Howard avoid arbitration with 3-year, $54 million deal


Phillies, Howard avoid arbitration with 3-year, $54 million deal
CLEARWATER, Fla. - Ryan Howard was never going anywhere, so you don't have to apologize if the speculation about his future was beginning to wear on you. Despite the Phillies' inability to avoid the arbitration table last season, the slugging first baseman wasn't eligible to become a free agent for another three seasons, which meant there was little pressure on either side to get a deal done.

Nevertheless, when the Phillies and Howard consummated a 3-year, $54 million contract yesterday that buys out his final 3 years of arbitration, it came as a relief to both sides.

"This is something that started probably long, long before this year," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said at a news conference yesterday afternoon in Philadelphia. "We worked to try to build a relationship with [Casey Close, Howard's agent] and Ryan and the family. I think at the end of the day we got done what was necessary in our minds and what was frankly the right thing to do for our whole organization."

The deal will pay Howard $15 million this season, $19 million in 2010 and $20 million in 2011, along with performance-related bonuses. It is structured in a way that allows the Phillies to trade Howard without any consequences if they are unable to negotiate a long-term contract extension prior to his walk year. The team would have to pay him $1 million if he is traded before Nov. 1, 2010.

The sides had submitted numbers for an arbitration hearing that now won't be necessary. Howard had requested $18 million, the Phillies had offered $14 million.

Howard, who was guaranteed to enter 2009 as the highest-paid Phillie even before the extension, has the second-highest average annual salary among major league first basemen, behind the Yankees' Mark Teixeira, who will earn an average of $22.5 million over the next 8 years.

Amaro said the sides discussed contracts of "a variety of lengths" before agreeing to 3 years.

"I'm not going to get into specifics about how things came about, but at the end of the day we felt, both sides felt, that 3 years was the right thing to do under the circumstances," Amaro said.

Close confirmed the deal in an e-mail Sunday morning but declined to comment further.

Howard, who will not be made available to the media until later in the week, was not at Bright House Field yesterday.

"I'm happy to have this done and to know that I'll be in Philadelphia for at least another 3 years," he said in a statement. "Both sides are happy and now I'm just focused on getting the season started and having fun."

Howard struggled at the plate for most of last season, hitting .172 in April, .238 in May, .234 in June, .311 in July, and .213 in August before going on a tear in September (.352 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI). He finished hitting .251 with a .339 on-base percentage - the lowest marks of his career - but hit 48 home runs and had 146 RBI and finished second in National League MVP voting behind Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols.

It is probably a stretch to pin the blame for Howard's sluggish start on pressure and stress that still lingered from the slugger's February hearing, when an arbitrator ruled in his favor and awarded him $10 million instead of the $7 million the Phillies had sought to give him. After all, he did go on to hit .313 with a .408 on-base percentage in 25 spring-training games.

Nevertheless, manager Charlie Manuel said the peace of mind that comes with having a guaranteed $54 million in the bank can't hurt.

"He can go out there and play Baseball now," Manuel said. "I think he can go out and not be thinking about it. That might help him. Who knows?"

As impressive as Howard's power numbers were last season, the Phillies could use a return to the form he displayed in his MVP season of 2006, when he hit .313 with a .425 on-base percentage in addition to belting 58 home runs and 149 RBI. With second baseman Chase Utley facing the prospect of missing some time at the start of the season while recovering from hip surgery, Manuel wouldn't mind seeing his first baseman regain some of the consistency that was lacking last year. They would also be served well if he recaptures some of his success against lefthanders - he hit a respectable .279 against lefties in 2006, but hit just .224 against them last season - particularly considering the departure of Pat Burrell and his righthanded power. Burrell signed a 2-year, $16 million deal with Tampa Bay.

Not that the Phillies would complain about another 48 home runs and 146 RBI.

"We'll take that," Manuel said. "At the same time, when I listen to him and when you guys listen to me talk, he feels like he can do better. And so do I. And he definitely puts the work in, so that's no problem."

Since Howard became the Phillies' everyday first baseman in July 2005, he leads the majors in home runs (175) and RBI (494). He has at least 40 home runs and 100 RBI in each of this three full big-league seasons and has finished in the top five in National League MVP voting in each one as well.

Amaro insisted yesterday that the relationship between the Phillies and Howard was never adversarial. In 2006 and '07, the Phillies renewed his contract when the sides were unable to come to an agreement on a 1-year deal, which in most cases is a formality. Howard made $900,000 in '07 and $355,000 in '06.

Last year, Howard became the first Phillies player since 2001 to take his case to arbitration. Yet Amaro said he was always optimistic about reaching an agreement with the slugger, even if he can still become a free agent at 32.

"The things that happened prior with Ryan, I don't know why they're being depicted in a different way but they weren't really adversarial," Amaro said. "It was just a matter of us agreeing to disagree and that happens a lot in negotiations in any kind of business. This was never really an adversarial type of situation. It was a situation, up until now, where the parties just agreed to disagree. That's a part of it. That didn't make us love Ryan any less and I don't think it made Ryan love us any less. It was just a matter of opinion. I think we kind of got through that and got to the point where we agreed on where this thing should go." *

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: February 9, 2009

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