Arbitration Is Mixed Bag For Phillies

The Phillies were able to announce a couple of deals last week, but have a difficult battle ahead when it comes to making Ryan Howard happy.

Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson avoided arbitration by agreeing to one-year contracts. Lidge, the closer acquired in a November trade with Houston, will make $6.35 million, a $1 million raise from his 2007 salary. Madson, returning from a shoulder injury that ended his season in July, will make $1.4 million, an increase from $1.1 million last year. Both contracts include performance and award bonuses. Lidge can make $50,000 for 55 games finished, $100,000 for 65 games finished and $100,000 for winning the Cy Young Award. Madson has $30,000 bonuses for 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 appearances.

Lidge's signing was expected and wasn't a tough negotiation. The Phillies realized the importance of getting something done with Lidge without a battle as a preemptive move toward possibly signing him to an extension after the season when Lidge is eligible for free agency. For Lidge, he's anxious to join a club with better than average odds of making the playoffs and also didn't want any protracted fight over his final one-year deal before he hits free agency.

Madson's deal was a bit more of a surprise, but his agent, Scott Boras, didn't have too much to stand on given how early Madson's season ended last year. If not for that injury, Madson and Boras would have likely looked for a much higher payday from the Phillies. Madson still yearns to return to a starting role at some point in his career and it's likely that he'll keep that desire in mind when he finally hits free agency after the 2009 season.

The Phillies still have one big name to worry about when it comes to arbitration and that's slugger Ryan Howard. The two sides submitted their salary numbers to Major League Baseball, with Howard requesting $10 million for 2008 and the Phillies offering $7 million. The sides will continue to negotiate until a hearing that will be set for a to-be-determined date in February. If they're unable to reach an agreement, a three-person panel will listen to the arguments from both sides before determining Howard's salary.

Typically, the Phillies try to avoid arbitration hearings. They haven't gone to a hearing since beating Travis Lee in 2001. Howard, 28, made $900,000 last season. He has hit 129 homers in 410 career games. Last season, he blasted 47 homers and had 136 RBI. But Howard also set a single-season major league record with 199 strikeouts, and his average fell to .268 after he batted .313 in 2006.

Howard's deal is tricky, because the Phillies have to tread lightly between fiscal responsibility and not alienating a superstar player who will eventually hit free agency and have any number of suitors. Howard was unhappy about the $900,000 deal he was stuck with for 2007 and that will only be compounded if he falls $3 million shy of what he and his agent believe to be the going rate for him in the 2008 season. The fact is that the Phillies offer is almost embarrassingly low and likely much further from Howard's true value than is the $10 million number submitted by Howard, although Howard's number is a little high. Since arbitration panels can't pick their own number and have to award either the team's number or the player's number, someone is going to be pretty unhappy. The Phillies would probably be smart to offer Howard something around $9 million and hope that they can avoid arbitration.

The two sides have had uneasy discussions about a long-term deal, but nothing appears to be close. With the numbers that he's put up in his career, Howard is guaranteed big money either way through arbitration as long as he doesn't wind up with a serious injury. A long-term deal would guarantee him the financial security and could actually save the Phillies both in terms of what they would have to pay him and in terms of being able to keep him in Philly for as long as possible. Howard will be eligible for arbitration again after each of the following three seasons and for free agency after the 2011 season. Any long-term deal would likely go through at least the 2012 season and it's likely that Howard will look for something in the range of five years and $70 million.

The Phillies number is interesting, but outdated. It equals the amount that the St. Louis Cardinals offered Albert Pujols in his first year of arbitration eligibility, but that was back in 2004. Salaries have increased, but the question will be have they increased to the $10 million level that Howard and his agent, Casey Close believe that they have?

There is just one other case for the Phillies to consider. Eric Bruntlett is asking for $800,000 and the Phillies put in an offer of $550,000 for the utility infielder who was acquired from Houston along with Lidge.

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