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Phils lose today, and long-term

A prediction: 36 to 48 months from now, at least one moronic pundit will go on and on about how those horrible Philly fans ran Ryan Howard out of town.

Yes, just like with Curt Schilling, Scott Rolen, Charles Barkley, etc., the so-called expert will make that proclamation when Howard becomes a free agent and signs elsewhere, or is traded prior to gaining free agency.

It didn’t matter that Schilling and Barkley both wanted to leave because they felt their respective teams weren’t committed to winning, or that the eternally miserable Rolen wasn’t going to stay no matter how much money was thrown at him, and it won’t matter that the Phillies seem to be sending Howard down a similar path.

After winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2005 and NL Most Valuable Player in 2006, the Phillies, unable to come to contract terms with Howard for 2007, renewed him for just $900,000 -- equal to what Albert Pujols once received after his second full year, except that Pujols didn’t win the MVP at that point in his career and that four years of salary inflation wasn’t taken into consideration, and that being paid $1 million for the first time would’ve been an appropriate symbolic gesture.

Despite striking out a record 199 times and being slowed for a good part of the first half of 2007 by injury, Howard still managed to hit 47 homers and drive in 136 runs, helping the Phils to the NL East title and their first playoff appearance in 14 years.

Howard’s 2007 season made him eligible for arbitration for the first time under the “Super Two” rule, which allows the top 17 percent of players with more than 2 years but less than 3 years service time in the majors to file for arbitration before acquiring that third full year. He put up huge numbers in the minors, numbers that would’ve had him in the majors quickly, but he was stuck behind free-agent signee Jim Thome and didn’t get any real playing time until Thome got hurt (and eventually traded).

It’s believed that this delay in getting into his prime earning years -- Howard turned 28 in November -- is a factor in the stalled negotiations for a multi-year deal; his agent is thought to be looking for a deal in excess of the 7-year, $100 million contract extension Pujols signed in 2004.

Naturally, as if it were Ryan Howard’s own fault for being buried in the minors, the Phillies used his limited years of service as an argument for paying him $7 million for 2008 instead of the $10 million asked for by Howard in arbitration. When Alfonso Soriano was awarded $10 million in 2006 he had five years’ service. Miguel Cabrera had 3-plus years when he was awarded $7.4 million last year.

Of course, neither Soriano nor Cabrera won the ROY or MVP. So the arbitrators had no problem today in granting Howard the $10 million he requested. It’s the largest sum awarded to an arbitration winner (when Soriano got $10 million, he lost his case -- he asked for $12 million) and the first time the Phils have ever lost in arbitration.

So what’s next? Spring training 2011 is 36 months away. After that season Ryan Howard finally reaches free agency and the countdown will begin, until it’s short-circuited by a trade. What would cause this? It could be a few years of back-and-forth bickering about money, some manufactured controversy, the team returns to mediocrity, who knows? But everything that’s happened so far, everything that will happen between now and 2011 -- none of it will matter. We already know who will get the blame when that media idiot opens his or her mouth. -- Joe Guckin