Phils optimistic about Howard

January 22, 2008 1:23:33 PM PST
Ryan Howard has been baseball's best bargain for three years. It's time for the slugger to get paid big bucks. Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies were $3 million apart when the two sides exchanged proposals for salary arbitration last week. The 2006 NL MVP asked for a $10 million contract, while the team countered with an offer for $7 million.

Either way, the 28-year-old first baseman will get a huge raise. How much is the sticking point. Arbitration cases sometimes can be contentious, so both sides would be better off reaching an agreement before a hearing takes place next month.

"This is a process you go through," general manager Pat Gillick said Tuesday. "We're going to probe as many different ideas as we can to hopefully get this settled and it'll be a win-win for everyone."

Despite playing just 88 games in 2005, Howard won the NL Rookie of the Year award. He topped that with one of the best seasons by a second-year player, hitting 58 homers with 149 RBIs and a .313 average. Howard batted .268 with 47 homers and 136 RBIs last year, but also set the major league record for strikeouts in a season with 199.

Howard earned just $355,000 during his MVP season and $900,000 last year. For a mere $1.25 million, the Phillies sure got their money's worth. No player hit more homers or drove in more runs during the last two years.

The Phillies and Howard's agent, Casey Close, discussed a long-term deal last spring. Howard's salary matched St. Louis' Albert Pujols for the highest base total in a one-year deal for a player not eligible for arbitration.

Once again, the Phillies are using Pujols' contract as the model for Howard. Their offer of $7 million matches the Cardinals' offer to Pujols in 2004 for the largest amount a team has offered a player who is arbitration eligible for the first time. Pujols and St. Louis eventually agreed to a $100 million, seven-year deal. Howard could get a similar contract.

"We're open to a one-year deal, a three-year deal, even in excess of a three-year deal," Gillick said. "I don't think it'll be a long-standing problem. I think things will work out."

Neither Gillick nor manager Charlie Manuel are concerned that Howard's contract situation could affect his performance.

"I never once heard Ryan complain or say anything about his contract," Manuel said.