Phils' Howard agrees on 3 years, $54M

PHILADELPHIA -- 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. He can increase the base salary by $1 million in each of the last two years if he wins the MVP award during the previous year. He can boost it by $500,000 if he finishes second.

"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 statement.

The Phillies are free to trade Howard without penalty after Nov. 1, 2010. But if he is traded before then, he would get an additional $1 million, according to terms written into the new contract.

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 club."

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."

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Jayson Stark was used in this report.