Howard's $10M win in arbitration sets new high-water mark

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Everywhere Ryan Howard turned, people wanted to dig into his pockets.

Howard's bank account just skyrocketed like one of those home runs he deposits into the upper deck. Baseball's best bargain finally will be getting big bucks.

Howard won his salary arbitration case against the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday when he was awarded $10 million, the highest figure given a victorious player.

Now teammates expect him to pay for their meals and pick up the tab on their nights out.

"My reaction is mostly relief," Howard said. "It was an interesting process. Anyway you look at it, it's a win-win because it's a substantial raise."

Howard made $900,000 last year and $355,000 during his MVP season in 2006. The Phillies offered $7 million, but Howard became the first player to win in six arbitration cases this season.

Howard tied the record for the highest salary awarded in arbitration, received by Alfonso Soriano in his losing case against the Washington Nationals in 2006. Soriano had sought $12 million.

"I'm sure he's very pleased," Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "This has been a negotiation that has been very amicable and very professional. It's just a part of the process."

Los Angeles Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez will either tie the arbitration record or break it after going to a hearing Thursday. K-Rod, eligible for free agency after this season, asked a panel of Stephen Goldberg, Elizabeth Neumeier and Steven Wolf for a raise from $7.1 million to $12.5 million. The Angels argued for $10 million.

Howard batted .268 with 47 homers and 136 RBIs last season in what was considered a down year for him. In 2006 he had 58 homers, 149 RBIs and a .313 average, one of the best seasons by a second-year player.

The 28-year-old first baseman has less than three years service time in the majors, partly because his path was blocked by Jim Thome. 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.

The case was decided by Goldberg, Robert Bailey and Jack Clarke. The panel listened for nearly five hours as each side presented its arguments Wednesday in St. Petersburg.

Howard was represented by his agent, Casey Close. Houston Astros president Tal Smith, who represents many teams, handled the Phillies' side.

Amaro negotiated with Close right until the hearing began, but couldn't agree on a deal. Howard can't become a free agent until after the 2011 season. It's likely the Phillies will try to sign him to a long-term contract much sooner.

"We negotiated right up to the courthouse steps with Ryan in a variety of ways and unfortunately we couldn't get it done," Amaro said.

If the team upset or insulted Howard at the hearing, he didn't let on.

"I'll leave what happened in there in there," he said, adding he'll leave his options open for a longer contract. "I'm sure there's going to be talks and discussions. As for now, I'm not going to focus on it. For now, I'm focusing on getting my game right."

He might have to pay off a few debts, too.

When Howard joined the Phillies, he spent time living with Jimmy Rollins. The reigning NL MVP figures his former housemate owes him more than just chores.

"I don't want Ryan to do the dishes anymore. He needs to pay me," Rollins joked.

Owners previously defeated pitchers Brian Fuentes of Colorado, Jose Valverde of Houston and Chien-Ming Wang of the New York Yankees, along with Washington infielder Felipe Lopez and Astros infielder Mark Loretta.

Rodriguez and New York Mets pitcher Oliver Perez are the only remaining arbitration cases.

Philadelphia hadn't gone to arbitration since defeating Travis Lee in 2001 and had been 7-0 in arbitration decisions.