Follow-Up: Howard Deal Shakes Phillies’ Foundation

Jim Salisbury writes today about how Ryan Howard’s arbitration “could translate into a huge season.” Well, anything can translate into a huge season, and from what we’ve seen from Howard, he’s only capable of huge seasons.

Let’s be honest here — Howard’s win strikes very imminently for the Phillies.

The Phillies were 7-0 in arbitration deals before yesterday, and were the only team left undefeated in that category. The Phils have taken pride in their ability to stay out of arbitration cases, showing they can settle with players and keep their team well grounded in a upper-middle level payroll year after year.

Ryan Howard changed all that — if there was one player who could change it, he was the one. Howard’s 129 homers in 410 games illustrate his power. He has quickly ascended to the top of the slugging food chain in the Majors, surpassing larger-than-life players such as David Ortiz in the threat category. His blasts are more music than sports. His personality is booming; moreover, as a black superstar speaking fluent English, he’s easily one of baseball’s most marketable and liked men.

Howard won $10MM for 2008 because his resume was too strong. It was too strong to succumb under the past; it was too strong not to set a precedent. Now it’s too strong for the Phillies. Talk of a deal that could amount to $200MM has been thrown out there. A long-term deal with Howard earning $20MM per year isn’t a stretch.

The Phillies have never faced this problem before. Never. When they inked Jim Thome and Billy Wagner, they doled out big deals, but the franchise also had a slew of cheap players to balance the payroll. Now Howard is worthy of league-best money while the team has to deal with other big-time players: Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels. And with these players and more in their primes, it’ll be extremely difficult — hell, impossible — for the Phillies to keep everyone and happy.

Unless they become big-market.

To me, the Howard arbitration win throws a hammer onto the Phillies traditional missive. Suddenly the Phils are faced with a query — sink into a mid-level, small-market system and let Howard walk off, or give Ryan his big deal when the time comes and become a solid big-market empire. To me, it’s a no-brainer: In a top-5 sports market, as the market’s most popular team, as a now annual playoff and World Series contender, with its major competition and closest franchises being the top-three payrolls, the Phils have to step up and become big-market. Run to $150MM. Hell, go farther.

But make no mistake, the Howard deal has shaken the very foundation of the Philadelphia Phillies. And the foundation’s strength will be tested until the Phillies make their final move on No. 6.

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