CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Only Ryan Howard knows the degree to which he is happy or unhappy, though his swing on Friday showed no signs of him being upset. Hours after having his contract renewed for $900,000, Howard punished a pitch in his second Grapefruit League plate appearance -- physically sending it out of Bright House Networks Field, near a pond believed to contain alligators. "[The sound] was real loud in the dugout," manager Charlie Manuel said.
It likely won't be as loud as the potential uproar caused by what is baseball's rite of passage, when younger players learn about the existing salary structure, regardless of what amazing accomplishments may already have been achieved. In Howard's case, said feats are substantial. After exhausting talks on a one-year and multi-year deal with Howard's agent, Casey Close, the Phillies renewed the contract of the reigning National League MVP on the first day teams could renew unsigned players not eligible for salary arbitration. "It's just part of the process," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "To me, it's no harm, no foul. Sometimes, people agree to disagree, and that's what happened. I think we're being appropriate." Before announcing the renewal, the Phillies explored the possibility of a multi-year deal with Howard, but couldn't reach an agreement. That doesn't mean they won't at some point, and Howard can't become a free agent until after the 2011 season. Still, Howard's salary is the largest paid to a player with fewer than two years of service time, trumping the $690,000 earned by Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood in 1999. It matches that of St. Louis' Albert Pujols, who earned that figure in the year before becoming eligible for salary arbitration. "We discussed a variety of things," Amaro said. "It's our goal to keep our star players in red pinstripes and we're going to work to that end. We didn't get to the finish line on this, but we'll have continued talks on this one." Howard belted 58 homers en route to earning the NL MVP Award in 2006, but had no leverage in negotiations. The $900,000 is a flat rate, and doesn't include any performance bonuses for making the All-Star Game or for earning another MVP. The Phillies were believed to have offered a one-year deal for more guaranteed money, with incentives that could've pushed the value significantly higher if Howard compiled similar statistics to 2006. Howard's camp opted for the renewal figure, without the incentives, perhaps sending a message that there's a disagreement in terms of value. Pujols made $900,000 after two full seasons, which included a Rookie of the Year award and a second-place finish in the MVP voting. Howard is ahead of Pujols on the salary curve. "We felt like $900,000 is a fair and just number," Amaro said. "Ryan is a special player, and we think we've treated him in a special way. We hope to try to do something more substantial in the future." Amaro maintained that the Phillies are committed to keeping Howard well beyond the 2011 season, when he would be eligible for free agency. The focus now shifts to a long-term deal, which will be broached soon, definitely next winter.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.