SAN FRANCISCO -- Charlie Manuel called Ryan Howard the Big Piece.

Casey Close called him the King Piece.

The Phillies called him indispensable when they announced Monday they had signed him to a five-year, $125 contract extension, which includes a sixth-year club option that could raise the value of the deal to $138 million. It is the largest contract in franchise history, and the third-largest average annual value of a contract ($25 million per year) in baseball history, behind Alex Rodriguez's current deal and his previous 10-year, $252 million contract.

"Being able to sign this contract to be here in Philly, it's great," Howard said at a news conference at AT&T Park. "It's a great feeling for me, for the organization and for the fans hopefully. Hopefully there are no riots or anything taking place back in Philly."

Howard, 30, currently is in the middle of a three-year, $54 million contract extension, which he signed in February 2009. He will make $19 million this season and $20 million in 2011. His latest extension begins in 2012. He will make $20 million in 2012 and 2013 and $25 million from 2014-16. The option in 2017 is worth $23 million with a $10 million buyout.

The $25 million guaranteed average salary will be baseball's second-highest behind Rodriguez's $27.5 million average under a 10-year contract with the Yankees running through 2017.

The deal includes awards bonuses and a limited no-trade provision. Every year Howard will select nine teams where he would accept a trade. The club option also is a straight option, meaning it does not automatically vest based on games played or plate appearances. If the Phillies want to pick it up, they pick it up. If they don't, they don't.

But as historic a deal as this is, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and Howard answered a couple of key questions Monday.

The first: Why do it now?

Howard would not have become a free agent until after the 2011 season. Much could happen in that time, including potential extensions for first basemen Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez. The Phillies could have waited for Pujols to set the market. Howard could get hurt. His production could decline.

Top average salaries
The top five salaries, by yearly average, of active players in the Major Leagues. Figures do not include the Phillies' $23 million option on Howard's contract for 2017.
Rank Player Team Length (Years covered) Total Average
1 Alex Rodriguez Yankees 10 years (2008-17) $275M $27.5M
2 Ryan Howard Phillies 5 years (2012-16) $125M $25M
3 Joe Mauer Twins 8 years (2011-18) $184M $23M
4 CC Sabathia Yankees 7 years (2009-15) $161M $23M
5 Mark Teixiera Yankees 8 years (2009-16) $180M $22.5M

The Phillies said they never considered such things.

"We decided that he is that good to our organization and to our future," Amaro said.

Howard will be 36 when the contract ends in 2016. There are previous examples of large power-hitting first basemen whose performances dropped after 30. Mo Vaughn is the poster boy. His career plummeted after 32. David Ortiz's numbers have declined since he hit .332 with 35 homers and 117 RBIs as a 31-year-old in 2007. Mark McGwire never played in more than 97 games after 35. Players like Richie Sexson and Cecil Fielder also experienced declines in their early 30s.

"I think we're blessed as an organization, especially at the Major League level, with guys who take a lot of pride in their craft," Amaro said. "Ryan is one of those guys. He clearly has dedicated himself to being a very complete player. He's worked on his defense. He's worked on his body. He has a special attribute with his power and run production that not many in the history of this game have been able to accomplish. But yet he continues to work to be a better player."

"It's just a matter of going out there and doing what I've been doing the past couple years, which is just trying to stay ahead of my training," Howard said. "Just making sure my body is staying good and staying healthy. I feel that what I've been doing over the past couple years, I feel pretty confident that down the road I'll be right where I want to be."

PHILLIES ALL-TIME HR LEADERS
RANK PLAYER No.
1. Mike Schmidt 548
2. Del Ennis 259
3. Pat Burrell 251
4. Chuck Klein 243
5. Ryan Howard 225
6. Greg Luzinski 223
7. Cy Williams 217
8. Dick Allen 204
9. Bobby Abreu 195
10. Johnny Callison 185
Howard won the National League Rookie of the Year in 2005 and NL Most Valuable Player Award in 2006. He made the NL All-Star team in 2006 and 2009, won a Silver Slugger in 2006 and earned NL Championship Series MVP honors last season. Since he replaced Jim Thome at first base July 1, 2005, he leads the Majors in home runs (222) and RBIs (650). He is just the fourth player in baseball history to have four consecutive seasons with at least 40 home runs and 130 RBIs. Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa are the others.

Interestingly, the Phillies and Howard could not agree on anything monetarily for a few years. They twice renewed his contract before he became eligible for salary arbitration, and his first year of salary arbitration in 2008 they met with arbiters in St. Petersburg, Fla. Howard won a record $10 million contract.

Close, who is Howard's agent, explained why two parties that could not agree on a one-year deal suddenly agreed to an enormous five-year extension.

Fastest to 200
The five players who reached 200 home runs in the fewest number of games.
Player Games
Ryan Howard 658
Ralph Kiner 706
Juan Gonzalez 766
Albert Belle 769
Harmon Killebrew 769
Source: Elias Sports Bureau

"There were two forces in play," he said. "The primary one being the amount of dedication Ryan has shown to his craft and his ability and desire to get better in all facets of the game, which not only include the offensive side and the defensive side, but getting himself in better shape, showing his durability factor. I think what Ryan has done on the conditioning side made the Phillies feel that much more comfortable committing to him long term.

"The secondary force is the Phillies' position in the division right now and their chance to maintain this position that they have for the foreseeable future, and to make sure that they had their king piece in place. They can help build around that because obviously this contract is one of a certain magnitude."

He is right about that. It is big.

"Ryan earned this contract with what he's done," Amaro said. "There are very few players who have done what he's done. In fact, there's none in some categories. He's set the record for himself by his performance. We're typically not a club that sets markets, and I don't view this as a market-setting deal, but we feel like this is an equitable deal for both sides. It's something he deserves. There's always risk when you're doing guaranteed deals, but what Ryan has done and what we think he's doing to do in the future, I think it's a good risk."