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Opinion: It Has Risks, But Howard Deal Is Fair

It happened as fast as it was shocking: The Phillies signed Ryan Howard to a three-year, $54 million deal today. Camp Howard wanted $18M in arbitration for the 2009 season; the Phillies wanted to give him $14M. With the deal, Howard will earn $15M in 2009, $19M in 2010 and $20M in 2011. He’ll average $18M per season.

It’s difficult to predict how Howard’s three arbitration years would’ve shaken. Sources were indicating the Phillies had a good shot of inking Howard for $14M in this year’s discussion, but with another strong performance, the big man could’ve argued for and won something like $20M in 2010.  A poor performance, however, would’ve brought his price down closer to $10M. Moreover, as much as the Phillies and Howard could play the performance market, they both would’ve played the stock market. With the 2010 offseason figuring to show diminished salaries across baseball due to the economic climate, it was possible the Phils could’ve gambled to give Howard close to that $14M again next season.

Instead, the Phillies decided to risk the dough now, lock up the big man through arbitraiton and keep things square. Let it be known that with another Howardesque season (strikeouts and batting average just don’t matter much), the Phils would’ve had trouble getting their price in 2010 and beyond, so at first glimpse, this is a win for the Phillies. But it’s a win for Howard, too. Again, because of that economy, Howard was best to take guaranteed cash, set himself for life and set himself for free agency, when maybe America will return to a strong economy.

The crux of this issue is almost too weighty for anyone to comprehend. Howard was a breakthrough arbitration case, the kind of white whale that demolished all predicated notions of the process. Factor in an uncertain future economic outlook and just as uncertain future performance from a man teetering from Dave Kingman to Babe Ruth, and you have a situation with a lot of head-scratching holes.

But with this deal Howard gets his payday, and the Phillies get peace of mind and possibly a discount. But this doesn’t change Howard’s trade value (nobody will want to gamble on the $39M he’ll make in 2010-11). It doesn’t change Howard’s monumental stature. It certainly doesn’t change the fact that in a poor economy, the Philadelphia Phillies have somehow become the league’s newest elite-market team. And it shows the Phillies have completely locked in their core for the next three seasons. In these early hours, a big hand to the front office.

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