A reader recently wrote:
Could you guys comment on the Ryan Howard contract? He was signed today for 900k. I know he’s only in his second full year, but that seems cheap for a 50+ HR guy. I guess I’m unsure of his arbitration status, I assume he is not eligible and this contract is just a sign of good faith?
It is a sign of good faith; the salary ties Albert Pujols for the largest ever for a guy with less than two years service time. Howard is not yet eligible for arbitration, though the Phils have talked about signing him to a long-term deal to cover those years. The Phillies had no obligation to pay Howard more than the minimum salary of $380K. Plenty of young guys earn $400K or less (Scott Kazmir, Robinson Cano, and Garrett Atkins come to mind).
As MLB.com’s Ken Mandel says, Howard had no leverage. Just like when he had his agent, Larry Reynolds, demand a trade from the Phillies in the spring of 2005, when he had less than 30 days Major League service time but was blocked by Jim Thome. (That article actually talked about moving Howard to left field – ha!) Howard later fired Reynolds (Harold’s brother) in favor of Casey Close.