With the Phillies likely finished making moves, the off-season has shifted into the stage where Ryan Howard's contract and impending arbitration hearing steals the spotlight.
By now, everyone knows that Howard and the Phils are $3 million apart, with Howard seeking $10 million and the Phils filing a $7 million offer. That’s a huge difference, especially for a club trying to maneuver inside a tight, self-imposed budget cap. A three-person arbitration panel will decide whether the team’s or player’s number is fairest.
As far as the two sides go, I’m neither here nor there, but I recognize the tremendous achievements Howard has made in only two and a half seasons. MVP. Rookie of the Year. No player has ever reached 100 home runs faster. Considering his accomplishments, in addition to the rising cost of talent, $7 million seems rather low to me. If the arbiters side with Howard, I have a strong feeling there will be no long-term deal, and his contract will be handled on a season-by-season basis until he becomes a free agent, setting up a Philadelphia sports tradition: Trading a disgruntled superstar for nothing.
Winter Tour stuff: Shane Victorino, Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero, Charlie Manuel and Mike Arbuckle head the list of Phillies swinging into Baseballtown on Thursday.
I hope to get a handle on Lidge's knee and how Manuel intends to work the late innings. It’s still a little unclear whether the set-up job is Tom Gordon’s to lose, or whether Romero will take over the reins following his three-year contract extension. I’m guessing Manuel will finalize a plan once they break camp at the end of March. If I had to predict Manuel’s focal point of concern, it would be the bottom of the rotation.
Arbuckle needs to answer some questions, too. The Bobby Abreu trade should be revisited now that it’s looking like none of the prospects from the four-for-one will pan out. In general, they’ve made very few strides in development and through trades recently. It’s a fair question to ask why the farm system appears to be getting progressively older and weaker. As always, if you have questions, pass them along in the comments thread.
Minor stuff: As predicted, Matt Smith passed through waivers, signed a minor league deal and will remain a Phillie. The 28-year-old left-hander, who underwent Tommy John surgery last season, became a roster casualty earlier this month. ... The South Maryland Blue Crabs, a new Atlantic League team, selected extreme junkball left-hander RJ Swindle in their expansion draft. The reliever is murder on Class-A left-handers, but the concern is he wouldn’t fool experienced hitters. I supposed the Blue Crabs feel strongly he will be cut loose by the Phils. ... According to Baseball America, the Phillies signed C Josh Eachues and 1B John Urick to minor league deals. ... A couple of pitchers - Anderson Garcia, Fabio Castro - are pitching in the Dominican, but in keeping with my early off-season promise, I won't waste my time with an update.