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12/13/07 1:46 AM ET

Phils offer contracts before deadline

Howard among group of six arbitration-eligible players

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies offered contracts to all six of their arbitration-eligible players well before Thursday's midnight deadline. Forty-three players weren't so fortunate and are looking for work.

Of those new to the market, pitchers Mark Prior and Josh Towers, and position players Dallas McPherson, Morgan Ensberg and Willie Harris represent intriguing names for the Phillies.

Players with between three and six years of Major League experience fall into a category by which teams negotiate one-year deals leading up to that player's free agency. For the Phillies, that includes Ryan Howard, Brad Lidge, Jayson Werth, Ryan Madson, Eric Bruntlett and Chris Snelling.

Howard receives special dispensation as a "super two" player, given to a certain percentage with more than two years but slightly less than three. Because of this, Howard will receive a fourth year of arbitration eligibility.

Any player not offered a contract becomes a free agent. The Phillies signed Werth this way last winter, shortly after he was non-tendered by the Dodgers.

The next step in the process comes when the team and the player exchange salary figures. The teams then could agree to a figure or have an arbitrator decide between the two amounts at a later hearing.

A third option is having the sides work out a long-term deal that bypasses the arbitration process for the next few years. Though the Phillies have explored that possibility with Howard and his agent, Casey Close, arbitration appears to be the more likely option.

The Phillies haven't gone to arbitration since winning a case against Travis Lee in 2001. They have never lost a hearing.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.