Howard Agrees to Three-Year Contract with Phillies

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Ryan Howard just wanted to concentrate on baseball this spring. No squabbles over his contract. No daily questions about his future.

The big slugger got his wish - and a hefty raise, too.

Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies agreed to a $54 million,
three-year contract on Sunday, avoiding a potentially contentious
arbitration hearing.

The 2006 NL MVP will earn $15 million this season, $19 million
next year and $20 million in 2011.

"The things that have happened prior with Ryan, it was really
nothing adversarial, although I know with some people it was
depicted that way," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.
"We just agreed to disagree. It didn't make us love Ryan any less,
and it didn't make Ryan love us any less."

Howard led the majors with 48 homers and 146 RBIs last season
while helping the Phillies win their first World Series title since
1980. He batted just .251, struck out 199 times and made 19 errors
at first base, but also was runner-up to Albert Pujols for MVP.

"I'm happy to have this done and to know that I'll be in
Philadelphia for at least another three years," Howard said in a

The 29-year-old Howard has less than four years service time in
the majors, so he wasn't eligible for free agency until after the
2011 season. Now the two sides won't have to worry about any more
arbitration hearings.

"We're very pleased to have avoided the arbitration process,
not just for this year, but also for the next two," Amaro said.
"Ryan is clearly one of the top power hitters and run producers in
the major leagues and is a very important part of our championship

Howard asked for $18 million in salary arbitration, the
third-highest figure submitted since the process began in 1974.
Philadelphia offered him $14 million, a raise of $4 million. A
hearing was scheduled for later this week.

Howard won his arbitration case last year when he was awarded
$10 million, the highest figure given a victorious player.

The Phillies avoided arbitration with all 10 eligible players.
They gave ace left-hander Cole Hamels a $20.5 million, three-year
contract. The team's payroll on opening day will exceed $130
million; it was $98 million last year.

A fifth-round draft pick in 2001, Howard quickly established
himself as one of the premier sluggers in the majors once he
finally reached the big leagues. His path to Philadelphia initially
was blocked by Jim Thome, who signed an $85 million, six-year
contract in December 2002.

An injury to Thome during the 2005 season paved the way for
Howard, who had 22 homers and 63 RBIs in just 88 games to win the
NL Rookie of the Year award.

He followed that up with one of the best sophomore seasons in
history. Howard had 58 homers, 149 RBIs and a .313 average in '06,
nearly lifting the Phillies into the playoffs. He batted .268 with
47 homers and 136 RBIs in '07 in what was considered a down year
for him.

Since moving into the starting lineup for good on July 1, 2005,
Howard leads the majors in home runs (174) and RBIs (493).

Most impressive, he's done it with raw, natural power and a
sweet left-handed stroke. Howard's name has never been linked to
steroid allegations in an era when many star players have come
under scrutiny for using performance-enhancing drugs. The 6-foot-4,
252-pound Howard comes from a big family and has two brothers
bigger than him.

With his contract settled, Howard can focus on having a better
start. He has a .230 average in April, his lowest in any month.
Last year, he batted just .168 the first month.

Perhaps that's why Howard already started training in Florida
long before his teammates are due to report. Pitchers and catchers
arrive in Clearwater on Saturday.

"Ryan wants to be a complete player," Amaro said. "He's
motivated to do that. Ryan is the kind of guy who won't be
satisfied with the numbers he's already put up. And obviously
that's beneficial to our club."