Monday, Mar 05, 2007
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The $900,000 Man

By Todd Zolecki
Inquirer Staff Writer

Ryan Howard said he didn't think this would hurt future talks with the Phillies.

The Phillies hope not.

Howard and the Phillies couldn't agree on a new contract, so the Phillies yesterday renewed him for one year at $900,000. It is a record for a player with one-plus seasons of major-league service time. It also equals the record-setting total for a player not eligible for salary arbitration. Albert Pujols received $900,000 from the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003, when he had two-plus years of service time.

But is it enough to keep the National League MVP happy?

Is it fair?

"They had their side. I had mine," Howard said yesterday during a 6-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Bright House Networks Field. "Obviously, we didn't come to terms. It's a little frustrating and a little disappointing that you couldn't get anything done, but that's the business aspect. Now you kind of use it as a starting point, and just go out and play.

"It is what it is. That's the decision that was made. That's what they wanted to give me. If they felt that it was fair, that's what they felt."

The Phillies talked with Howard's agent, Casey Close, about one-year and multiyear deals, but never came close to an agreement. So the Phillies basically put two one-year offers on the table: the $900,000 deal for a renewal and a higher figure for an agreement. Howard, who made $355,000 in base salary last year, thought the higher figure wasn't enough, so he might have sent the Phillies a message by rejecting the agreement and opening the door to a renewal at the lower amount.

"We haven't had a whole lot of [renewals]," said Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who was the point man for the team. "Our goal is always to try to get to agreements because we try to be very fair with our players.

"Is there concern? No, it's just part of the process. To me, it's no harm, no foul. Ryan is a special player. We think we've treated him in a special way. We hope to try to do something maybe more substantial in the future.

"It's important for people to understand that he's being paid more as a one-plus player than has ever been paid, who's not under a multiyear contract. That's very significant."

Howard is aware that he's in a bad spot at the moment because he has next to no negotiating power.

Players not eligible for salary arbitration basically are at the mercy of their team. Howard has one year and 145 days of big-league service time. Players typically need three years of service time to become eligible for arbitration, but it appears Howard will qualify as a "Super Two" player after the season. That means Howard would be eligible for arbitration for the next four seasons before he becomes a free agent after the 2011 season.

"The bottom line is this, frankly, we like to pay players what they're worth, and if he continues to perform the way he's performed, we have no problem getting into an arbitration setting with him," Amaro said. "That's just part of the process. It's not a concern of ours. At this particular moment, we didn't get to the finish line with this particular deal. Can we do it in the future? Perhaps."

New York Mets third baseman David Wright has two-plus years' service time. He signed a six-year, $55 million extension last season. But Howard certainly is looking for much more than that.

The Phillies just signed Chase Utley to a seven-year, $85 million contract extension during his first year of arbitration eligibility. Close, who couldn't be reached to comment, recently told Baseball America that "I think it's safe to say that it will be a number that exceeds that."

A smart bet? Howard wants to exceed Pujols' seven-year, $100 million extension.

That's some serious coin.

"You're looking for whatever is fair," said Howard, who said he was involved in the negotiations enough to offer his opinions on offers made and requested. "You're looking for something you feel comfortable with, something that feels fair. It just didn't feel that way."

This is the second consecutive year Howard has not come to an agreement with the Phillies.

"I did the same thing last year, and I don't think it really burned any bridges or did anything like that, but you want to try to get it done," Howard said. "But right now the whole contract situation is done. I'm getting paid to put on a uniform, and that's what matters. Now, you just go out and try to help the team win a championship."

And next winter, when the Phillies and Close start talking again?

"Yeah, you kind of come in with a clean state or whatever," Howard said.


Contact staff writer Todd Zolecki at 215-854-4874 or tzolecki@phillynews.com.