It'll be all business and no play
Howard, Phillies set to make their arbitration case Wednesday
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ryan Howard will hear some interesting things on Wednesday during his first taste of baseball's business side.Barring a last-minute agreement, Howard will add an arbitration hearing to his list of experiences in this sport. The slugging first baseman will travel to a conference room somewhere in St. Petersburg and watch his agent, Casey Close, argue why his client should receive $10 million this season, a number that would set a record for a first-year arbitration player. He'll then hear assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and those on Philadelphia's side present their case as to why Howard should earn $7 million, an amount the organization feels is more befitting a player with his time spent in the Major Leagues. After hearing both sides, a three-person panel will decide on one figure sometime on Thursday. The Phillies haven't lost any of their seven previous hearings since beating Travis Lee in 2001. Howard is obviously different as one of the game's premier young sluggers. With more homers than anyone in baseball over the past two seasons, Howard also can claim a National League Rookie of the Year Award and an MVP. "I don't know what's going to happen," Howard said. "Right now, I'm in chill mode. I'm taking care of what I'm supposed to take care of at the field. Tomorrow is tomorrow." As he's done since arriving, Howard playfully deflected all contract-related questions lobbed at him. He didn't characterize whether he was nervous about what was going to be said at the hearing or angry that things have reached this point. Amaro also declined to comment on specifics. Asked whether having to endure a hearing might affect future willingness to sign a multiyear deal with the Phillies, Howard said, "Ask me that Thursday. We'll see what happens after that." Even if his feelings were hurt -- and there's no indication of that -- Howard will receive a substantial raise from the $900,000 he earned last season. It's also worth reiterating that Howard can't leave the Phillies until after the 2011 season, meaning there are plenty of years to soothe any bruised egos. Should Howard need advice on understanding the process, he can ask reliever Tom Gordon, who endured a hearing 14 years ago while with the Royals.
Gordon recalled entering a conference room, and seeing Royals general manager Herk Robinson list the flaws of his 1993 season in order to prove that Gordon didn't deserve the $2.635 million he was seeking."The best players in the game have gone through it," Gordon said. "That was my first arbitration hearing, and I really got an understanding of it. I had no idea that they say all that about what you don't do and how bad you are. Thank God I only had to go through one. After hearing all they had to say, I was devastated. I was like, 'Do they really care for me or not?'" After the hearing -- he won his case, by the way -- Robinson told Gordon that he shouldn't take anything that was said personally. "I realized the business part of the game," Gordon said. "At first, it wasn't something I wanted to be listening to me. It was a great learning experience, and you can't let it affect you." "I've heard that from different guys who have gone through it," Howard said. "They say, 'Don't take anything personal.' We'll see what happens. It's easy to say, but until you get in there and experience it. I'll be in there and just chill."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.