Arbitration payout puts Howard in uncharted salary territory
Originally Published: February 21, 2008By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- What does it mean when a guy wins 10 million negotiable American dollars through the miracle of salary arbitration?In Ryan Howard's case, says his buddy Jimmy Rollins, it means he can afford that Aston Martin DB9 James Bond-mobile he's had his eye on. Suggested list price, in case you're wondering: $168,000. "Shoot," Rollins laughed, "that's two days salary for him now." We should probably point out, as Chase Utley did, that "Ryan Howard can't fit in a sports car. He needs a truck." But we should also point out that this column is not appearing in Motor Trend, so we regret to announce that's about it for our discussion of Ryan Howard's future modes of automotive transportation. Instead, we're here to tell you what Howard's precedent-setting arbitration award Thursday really means -- in the baseball universe.
Why Howard won
The Phillies -- and the folks at MLB who "advise" clubs on salary-arbitration filings -- thought they were going to nail this case because no player with two-plus years' service time had ever made anywhere close to $10 million. Matter of fact, Howard was asking for more than twice the $4.5-million salary the previous record-holder, Justin Morneau, had earned in this service class. So by comparison to Morneau, the Phillies' offer of $7 million actually might have seemed generous. Not by coincidence, that offer happened to be exactly as much as Albert Pujols collected in his first year of arbitration eligibility in 2004. The problem was, the arbitrators didn't buy the comparisons to either Morneau or Pujols. Turned out, the guy they were looking at was Miguel Cabrera. Apparently, the panel tossed Pujols out of the argument because his salary wasn't determined by the arbitration process. It was the first year of his long-term, seven-year, $100-million contract. And the arbitrators ostensibly decided Morneau wasn't a comparable enough player because Howard has outproduced not just Morneau, but just about everyone else in the sport since he arrived in the big leagues.
How does this ruling affect the rest of the sport?
Listen closely. Hear that sound off in the distance? It's a cash register ringing. For Prince Fielder. For Ryan Braun. For Ryan Zimmerman. For Hanley Ramirez. For all the young star-studded boppers out there who are following Howard down the arbitration highway. Why? Because, in the words of one agent, Howard's award just "blew up the entire system." "This award could affect the market by 10s of millions of dollars," the agent said. "That's $3 million more a year for Prince Fielder, times all his arbitration years. That's $3 million more a year for Hanley Ramirez, times all his arbitration years. Add up all those dollars for all those players, and it becomes an exponential thing that could have a huge impact."
What this means is that any future discussion of a long-term deal becomes very difficult for the Phillies. There's nobody who has made this large a salary at this stage. So there's no map.
--A baseball source
So that's why you see teams like the Rockies rushing to tie up players like Troy Tulowitzki as soon as possible, before their arbitration years even kick in. The Rockies looked over the horizon, didn't like what they saw and signed their guy before any arbitration panels came into their lives. The Phillies, on the other hand, balked at giving Howard a ground-breaking contract after his rookie-of-the-year season in 2005 or his MVP season in 2006 -- because Howard's side wanted a historic contract even then. Instead, the club opted to play arbitration roulette. And now they are filing that decision under "W" -- for "Well, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time."
Where does Howard go from here?
Minutes after the Phillies got the grim news of this decision Thursday, assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was asked if the club would now turn its attention back to signing Howard to a long-term deal. "It's too fresh in our minds right now to even start dealing with that kind of stuff," Amaro replied. "This is not the time for us to start discussing the future of Ryan Howard." That might suggest that this decision was too painful or this case was too arduous for the Phillies to plow back into those talks yet. But that, we would guess, isn't the real reason.
The real reason is that Ryan Howard just got way too expensive."What this means," said one baseball man, "is that any future discussion of a long-term deal becomes very difficult for the Phillies, because now there's no map. If they'd lost, then there's a road map that leads them to a multi-year deal, because then the numbers fall in line with what players have made before. Now there's nobody who has made this large a salary at this stage. So there's no map." And the Phillies are one of those teams that need those maps -- a team that follows those maps religiously, in fact. Oh, they spend plenty of money now. And they sure haven't asked the likes of Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu or Chase Utley to work for eight bucks an hour in recent years.
|5 (tie).||Lance Berkman||101|
|5 (tie).||Dick Stuart||101|
|5 (tie).||Johnny Bench||326|
|5 (tie).||Dick Stuart||326|
|* -- Players with less than 2,000 plate appearances.|