No settlement between Phillies, Howard

February 20, 2008 4:05:26 PM PST
Ryan Howard came out of his first arbitration hearing smiling. Howard spent about four hours Wednesday listening to the Philadelphia Phillies explain why he doesn't deserve $10 million this season. His agent, Casey Close, argued that Howard is worth every penny.

An arbitration panel will issue a ruling Thursday. If Howard loses, he'll get $7 million. That's still a hefty raise from the $900,000 he made last year.

"I'm always upbeat," Howard said when he finally emerged from a downtown hotel in St. Petersburg, Fla. "I'll be upbeat regardless. Either way, it is what it is."

Arbitration cases often can be contentious because teams have to point out flaws in their players, leaving them with hurt feelings and sometimes more. Houston Astros president Tal Smith, who represents many teams in these cases, handled the Phillies' side. He likely made an issue of Howard's service time in the majors.

The 2006 NL MVP has under three years of service, though he did win the Rookie of the Year award in just 88 games in '05.

"That's certainly a major portion of the criteria, length and consistency of a career," Smith said. "That's basically what the discussion is about. There is no denying his performance. It's a question of how that slots in with the rest of the criteria."

Smith may have focused more on Howard striking out a major league record 199 times last season instead of the 105 homers the slugger hit over the last two years.

"There's no animosity or ill feelings to come out of it," Smith said.

Does Howard feel that way?

"I don't know about that, but we'll see tomorrow," he said. "It was a different experience being in there."

Howard can't become a free agent until after the 2011 season, so the Phillies aren't under pressure from anyone except some of their fans to give the 28-year-old first baseman a long-term contract now.

Howard batted .268 with 47 homers and 136 RBIs last season in what was considered a down year for him. That's because he had 58 homers with 149 RBIs and a .313 average in 2006 in one of the best seasons by a second-year player.

Jim Thome blocked Howard's path to the majors until he got hurt in '05. Howard stepped in and never relinquished the starting job, hitting 22 homers with 63 RBIs in slightly more than a half-season.