The Phillies Missed The Chance To Make A Statement

By Jim Saulsbury
Updated: March 3, 2007

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Think of the Phillies’ negotiations with Ryan Howard as a treacherous, 30-foot, double-breaking putt. They gave it a nice run, but came up a quarter-inch short.

As was their right, the Phillies yesterday renewed Howard’s contract for one year and $900,000.

It is a historic deal. Assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., the point man on the negotiations, was right when he called it fair and appropriate. No player with under two years’ service time has ever made that much money on a straight one-year contract.

Howard nearly tripled his 2006 salary, and bully for him. He had an awesome season last year, won the National League most valuable player award, and put a lot of fannies in the seats at Citizens Bank Park.

He deserves every last dollar. But from the get-go, these negotiations weren’t as much about money as they were about making a statement. The Phillies say Howard is a special player.

They say they want him around for many years to come. For these reasons, the Phillies needed to go above fair and appropriate. They needed to set aside the constraints of service time and the guidelines of the commissioner’s office. They needed to do it for this one guy.

The Phils will tell you they tried to pay Howard more than $900,000. They tried to get him to agree to a more lucrative one-year deal that included award bonuses – all-star teams and MVP, etc. When Howard’s side would not agree on a new deal, the Phils dug in and renewed him.

Ah, but they renewed him at a lower price than they would have given him for agreeing. Amaro would not disclose the agreement offer, but he did confirm that it included award bonuses.

In a high-profile negotiation like this, the Phillies may have made a PR gaffe by ignoring the symbolic impact of paying Howard $1 million in a renewal. In the big picture, it’s not a whole lot more than $900,000, but it sounds better, and in this case perception means a lot.

The Phils also may have made a gaffe in goodwill-building by not including award bonuses in Howard’s renewal figure. It is not standard practice to include bonuses in renewed contracts, but, come on, this is the NL MVP we’re talking about.

Friday, he hit a ball completely out of Bright House Networks Field. It cleared everything in center field and landed out where the alligators live.

The Phillies would have been wise to include a bonus package in this deal. Call it a goodwill gesture, one on the house. It would have been win-win. Howard could have gotten an extra $50,000 for being elected an all-star.

An extra $100,000 for winning the MVP again, or $50,000 for finishing second in the voting, would have been money well spent. If Howard is winning these honors, people will pay to come see him play, and everyone will be the richer for it.

The $900,000 matches what Albert Pujols got in 2003, his final season before becoming eligible for salary arbitration. Howard will likely be eligible for salary arbitration next winter.

The Phillies can rightly say that Howard’s deal is actually more generous because he has less service time than Pujols had then, and service time is the almighty gauge when determining the salaries of players before they gain arbitration rights.

But what the Phillies aren’t saying is that the market has gone up since Pujols’ deal in 2003. Revenues have risen, and it certainly would have been justifiable to renew Howard for more than Pujols got that year.

Of course, that wouldn’t have sat well with the commissioner’s office, and there’s a reason the Phillies have always been one of Bud Selig’s favorite clubs. The Phillies, you see, are team players.

You have to wonder, though, how being a team player will affect them in future dealings with Howard. Maybe it won’t have an effect. Maybe the two sides will seamlessly work out a multiyear deal that buys out a few free-agent years next winter.

Maybe they’ll agree on a one-year deal when Howard has arbitration rights.

But if these negotiations were any indication, there’s a chance that future dealings won’t be easy, and we could see evidence as soon as next winter at the arbitrator’s table.

Already there have been quiet rumblings throughout the baseball industry that Team Howard – his family is very involved in his career – is difficult to please. Remember, he has already fired two agents.

And, in this negotiation, he turned down more money than he ultimately got as the two sides failed to mutually agree on a one-year deal.

In the end, the Phillies exercised their right to determine Howard’s salary. They gave him an unprecedented amount of money for a player in his service class. But they still came up a little short in the statement-making department.