Double-Dealing: Howard, Hamels and Big Bucks

The Phillies are still basking in the glow of their first World Championship in 28 years, but now, it's coming close to the time where the bills start rolling in. Those bills will result in big checks being written with the names Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard on the "Pay to the order of" line.

This time last season, the Phillies were poised for bad news. They were expecting the worst out of arbitration with Ryan Howard and try as they may, they weren't able to avoid heading into a hearing room, knowing that either way, Howard would emerge with a pricey contract. The Phillies wound up losing the case and having to shell out $10 million for Howard in 2008.

Now, the two sides again appear unable to come to any agreement and arbitration is again looming on the horizon. With Howard having won last time, the Phillies are bracing for bad news, especially amid reports that Howard's number will come in at somewhere around $15 to $17 million. The Phillies are more likely to ask for something in the $13 million range, perhaps just a little higher.

Meanwhile, Cole Hamels will potentially go in front of arbitrators for the first time, seeking his first big pay day from the Phillies. Since pitchers don't demand the prices that big time offense does, Hamels won't be seeing numbers like Howard, but he'll certainly be able to afford that new place that he just picked up high atop Liberty Two. It's likely that Hamels is going to cost the Phillies about $5 million and perhaps, a little more. The closest comparison to Hamels in recent arbitration cases has been Chien-Ming Wang, who picked up $4 million last year when he went for his first arbitration case. He had been seeking $4.6 million from the Yankees, but came out on the short end.

So, with Chien-Ming Wang as a barometer, let's look at how Hamels stacks up. We'll compare Wang's stats through the 2007 season - when he first filed for arbitration - with the current stats of Hamels.

Wang 46 18 3.74 82 80 533.2 535 234 222 30 143 227 1.27 .263
Hamels 38 23 3.43 84 84 543.0 473 227 207 72 144 518 1.14 .233

It's worth noting, that Wang was 27 when he went before the arbiters last winter, while Hamels is 25. Hamels also has an NLDS and World Series MVP Trophy on his mantle that Wang didn't have and Hamels was just coming off receiving those awards when he filed for arbitration. While their numbers are relatively close - certainly close enough for comparison - the intangibles that Hamels has for his accomplishments and being the ace of the Phillies staff should account for a few extra bucks in his pocket.

Could the Phillies avoid arbitration with either player? Yes and no. The yes belongs to Cole Hamels case. While he was upset at having his contract renewed for 500-thousand last year, he has become enamored with Philadelphia. He seems to have backed off from his "that will affect certain things down the line" remark last winter when he received the dollar amount on his contract. In fact, Hamels and Gillick had a minor war of words about the deal and there seemed to be some hard feelings.

Now, with a World Series trophy, two post-season MVP honors and a new car for his wife to ride around in, Hamels feels much better. It can't hurt that Gillick isn't officially calling the shots anymore either, which would make negotiating a deal with Hamels a little easier.

The Phillies would seem to have a window of opportunity in dealing with Hamels. One approach would be to give him what he wants for the 2009 season and then instantly turn the conversation around to what he would want to stick in Philadelphia for a much longer period of time. While the Phillies aren't convinced of the merit of giving out contracts longer than three years to pitchers, Hamels abilities and the fact that top pitchers easily command at least four years now, make it necessary to break out of character for the Phillies, which could make Hamels the exception to their three year limit.

Then, there's Ryan Howard. While he's a fan favorite, Howard and the Phillies haven't really seen eye-to-eye on much. Even before he was solidly in the Phillies lineup, Hamels had asked for a trade. Of course, at that time, he was seemingly blocked by Jim Thome. Now, he's an entrenched major leaguer, but he doesn't seem to be any happier. Many around baseball have whispered what ESPN's Jayson Stark recently wrote, stating that the Phillies could well look to trade Howard, possibly as early as after the 2009 season.

A year from now, Howard will still be under team control for two more years, making him somewhat attractive to other teams. That amount of time would give them negotiating room to get a long-term deal done with Howard, so a team with deep pockets could look at dealing for the high-priced slugger. Keep in mind, that Howard has to be slobbering over what he saw handed to Mark Teixeira by the Yankees, since Howard's offensive numbers could well eclipse Teixeira by the time he's a free agent. Even if Howard just puts up his average numbers in each of the three seasons, the comparison between him and Teixeira at the time of their free agency could look something like this...

Teixeira 203 676 .290 904 3414 566 989 223 13 13 442 694 .378 .541
Howard 330 930 .278 1037 3791 633 1055 176 12 4 627 1271 .382 .589

Again, keep in mind a couple of things. Teixeira was 28 when he hit free agency, while Howard will be 31. Of course, Teixeira didn't have a Rookie of the Year Award or an MVP Award to his credit, both of which Howard has and it's not out of the question that he could add to his MVP total by then as well.

Keep in mind one last factor when considering Hamels and Howard. Howard is under team control through the 2011 season and Howard is under team control through the 2012 season. The collective bargaining agreement runs through the 2011 season and there could very well be changes brought to baseball's salary structure when the deal runs out. Owners are slowly jumping on the salary cap bandwagon and there is talk of a total revamp of the arbitration system, free agent compensation and even free agency itself.

For now, the Phillies can just hope to contain salaries as much as possible and work to find ways to sign players like Howard and Hamels to long-term deals. They also have to deal with arbitration for players like Jayson Werth, Ryan Madson and Shane Victorino. In fact, the Phillies arbitration eligible players made a total of $19 million last season and that number could easily double once the arbitration cases are heard.

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