In his first full major league season, Ryan Howard won a National League MVP award.
It almost certainly will take longer for him to earn a long-term contract.
Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the club is focused more on settling its arbitration cases than negotiating a long-term deal with Howard, who isn't eligible for arbitration until after 2007 and won't become a free agent until after the 2011 season.
That doesn't mean Howard won't get a hefty raise in 2007.
After pacing the majors with 58 home runs and 149 RBIs last season - all for the bargain salary of $335,000 - Howard likely will receive a more lucrative one-year contract.
In his final season before arbitration, Albert Pujols got a then-record, one-year, $900,000 deal as a good-faith gesture from the Cardinals, who signed him to a seven-year, $100 million extension before the 2004 season.
"A guy like Ryan Howard, people expect him to be paid like Albert Pujols," Amaro said. "The reality is he's got one-plus year in the major leagues. He'll be paid favorably by his performance. It's our intent and our desire to keep Ryan here for a long time."
For now, though, the Phillies can't do much negotiating with Howard, who has fired agent Larry Reynolds. It's believed Howard is interested in hiring New Jersey-based NBA agent Leon Rose, who represents LeBron James and Allen Iverson.
Reynolds, the brother of former major-leaguer Harold Reynolds, was Howard's second agent. He fired St. Louis-based Jim Turner two years ago.
Second baseman Chase Utley is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility, and the Phillies are mulling whether to give him a long-term contract extension. Utley, an All-Star Game starter who batted .309 with 32 home runs and 102 RBIs last season, made $500,000 in 2006. Through arbitration, he can reasonably expect a raise to at least $3.5 million, possibly more, in 2007.
"We're still wading through how we're going to handle some of our young players," assistant GM Ruben Amaro said. "There's no reason we can't go one year by one year (in arbitration). There's also no reason we can't do long-term deals."
Then, there's Brett Myers.
Myers avoided arbitration in 2006 with a $3.3 million contract, but he may be headed for the bargaining table this year. After going 12-7 with a 3.91 ERA last season, Myers is seeking another raise or a multiyear contract, but the Phillies are reluctant to provide either, especially after Myers was arrested for domestic assault in June in Boston. (The charges were dismissed in October).
Other arbitration-eligible Phillies include CF Aaron Rowand, RHP Ryan Madson and RHP Geoff Geary. Each has until January 13 to file, and the Phillies will begin exchanging salary figures with their agents on January 17.
Rowand and the Phillies declined mutual options in October and Rowand can become a free agent after the 2007 season.
Notes From Philly
Rookie C Carlos Ruiz, who will compete for the starting job with veteran Rod Barajas, had five hits in his first 18 playoff at-bats (.278) for Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League. His team was among four competing in an 18-game, round-robin postseason tournament.
If the Phillies are unable to acquire a left-handed hitter to come off the bench, switch-hitting OF Chris Roberson may get an extended look in spring training. Roberson, 27, batted .195 (8-for-41) with one RBI in 57 games for the Phillies last season. He spent the offseason in the Mexican Pacific League, batting .277 (64-for-231).
The Phillies have signed former major league INFs Lou Collier and Brent Abernathy to minor league contracts. Both figure to start the season at Triple-A Ottawa.
RHP Anderson Garcia was claimed off waivers from the Orioles. Garcia, 25, split last season between the Mets and Orioles organizations, going a combined 4-6 with a 3.82 ERA in 42 appearances (one start).
THE NUMBERS GAME: $855,000 - Combined salary in 2006 for Phillies All-Star 2B Chase Utley and 1B Ryan Howard, the National League's MVP.
HE SAID WHAT? "Long-term deals can become encumbrances. If you get into a cycle where you're using a high percentage of payroll on three or four players, it can be detrimental in terms of flexibility. At the same time, you put yourself in a position to know where your payroll is going to be. A lot of it is time and circumstance, but as an organization, we like to keep our players." - Phillies assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. on the possibility of 1B Ryan Howard and 2B Chase Utley receiving long-term contracts.