Ryan Howard is a powerful ballplayer. He hits many home runs and drives in many runs. He was an integral part of the Phillies 2008 World Championship.
But, he is not worth $18 million as a second-year arbitration player.
On Tuesday, Ryan Howard filed an astounding arbitration of $18 million, the third largest filed number in baseball history.
The only two larger were Roger Clemens, a 20-year veteran and sure-bet Hall of Famer at the time, and Derek Jeter, who was entering into his final year of arbitration. Howard is only in his second year of arbitration.
The collective bargaining agreement does not allow for players, such as Ryan Howard, to make such exorbitant contract demands. The agreement, in which Howard's union and major league baseball worked on and agreed to together, calls for players to put their six years in of Major League Baseball service time and then earn free agency.
Once a free agent players have the ability to allow for teams to compete for their services and sell to the highest bidder. This exorbitant figure undermines this agreement, by asking for a salary that only five players in all of baseball earned last year.
Foxsports.com's Ken Rosenthal offered an observation last week: Ryan Howard's father, who manages his finances, thinks he is an unprecedented player and will not negotiate a contract at any price.
The phrase "A-Rod money" has been floated around by Philadelphia sportswriters over the last couple of years.
But the only real quote from agent Casey Close is that the Phillies will need to do "much better" than the seven-year contract given to Chase Utley two years ago, who is arguably a more complete and more important player in the Phillies' lineup.
What Casey Close and the Ryan Howard camp will argue: Howard led the league in home runs (48) and RBI (146) last year, and was runner-up in the MVP voting. Also to his credit, he has a Rookie of the Year award and an MVP award of his own.
What the Phillies and their camp will argue: Howard's fielding is atrocious (19 errors last season), he strikes out too much (he equaled what was at the time a MLB record of 199 he set the previous season). His average has steadily declined each year (.313 in 2006, .286 in 2007, and .251 in 2008), and his OPS of .882 was less than that of Pat Burrell, who settled for $8 million a year.
The arbitration rules will damn Howard. In creating arguments, each side may only use players with similar service time to serve as a comparison. NO player with Ryan Howard's service time has received anywhere close to the $14 million the Phillies offered and the $18 million Howard asked for.
The arbiter must pick one amount or the other. With no precedent in baseball to back Howard, the Phillies will win.
"Why haven't they paid the guy already?" Charles Barkley once recently mused, talking about Ryan Howard. Well, the truth is that Howard's camp is not open to discussion.
The Phillies have locked up Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, Raul Ibanez, J.C. Romero, and for better or worse, have a history of signing other players of their own in history, such as Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, and Mike Lieberthal. They are not at fault here.
In a move to scrape every last penny he can from a major league team, Ryan Howard will continue to play this game instead of signing a multi-year contract. By the time he is a free agent before 2012, he just may not have it anymore.
Or, maybe he will.
That is why the players and baseball agreed on this system in which players put in their six years at a lower salary and earn the opportunity to be paid well. Ryan Howard wants to be treated as if he already has put his time in, and it can only hurt him.
If that average continues going south as pitchers continue to learn how to pitch to him and he makes less and less contact, he may end up worse off when he is finally a free agent than if he worked out a long-term deal with the Phillies now.
The Yankees just spent $180 million for a gold-glove first baseman. They won't be in the market to spend way more than that on a DH in three years. Watch out, Ryan.