At What Point Is Too Much With Howard?

So we know Ryan Howard made $10 million last season after the biggest arbitration pay day in baseball history. And we know he’ll ask for more for 2009 – we’re thinking an opening request will be close to (or at) $18 million. Predictions also have the Phillies’ offer around $13 million. There won’t be a happy medium there. It’s very possible Howard will win another arbitration round and make what he wants in 2009.

Then there’s 2010. And 2011. (Yes, he’s a Super-Two player.)

Gerry Fraley of Sporting News argues the Brewers – engrossed in their own potential arbitration battle with hulking Prince Fielder – should think about trading the first baseman during the 2009 offseason. Fielder is in his first season of arbitration, and most experts expect him to demand close to the $10M Howard won. He won’t get $10M, but he might very well get $8M. That sets Milwaukee for a similar quandary in 2009/10.

Back to Howard – if the Brewers should trade Fielder next offseason, under Fraley’s logic, Howard should be traded this offseason. I wrote back in April that exploring a trade would be a fine idea. Then I wrote in November that there’s no need to trade Howard – the world championship meant all urgency was out the window. Still, knowing Howard could possibly make something like $25M in his next to last arbitration year makes one incredibly afraid. Do we really want one man making one-fifth of the team’s payroll next season?

Other matters come into play, such as the Phillies financial philosophy. Hanging onto Howard and paying him large sums until arbitration ends would show the Phillies aren’t afraid to pay for high quality, the kind of thing we’ve seen scarcely in the past. But is Howard – a strikeout-prone hitter with a slumping average and poor fielding tendencies – worth hanging onto? Or, is Howard – an enormous run producer and continual threat in the lineup – worth trading away?

Is the question that may very well define the Ruben Amaro Jr. era.

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