The news over the New Year on the north side of Pattison focuses on NL MVP Ryan Howard and his search for a new agent. At first glance, the move seems more dramatic than it really is. The change in representation will most likely not result in a long-term deal for Howard, since Ryno is not up for arbitration until after this season and won’t become a free agent until after the 2011 season. Also, Chase Utley ranks higher on the Phillies’ priority list when it comes to signing multi-year deals. Still, the Phils’ front office would be wise not to string Howard along with one-year deals as they have done with Brett Myers. An early commitment to Howard will guarantee he does not hold out on signing a long-term contract and choose to test the free agent market. Perhaps the change of agents is a sign that Howard is simply seeking to capitalize on his breakout season through endorsements and other extra-curricular activities and felt former agent Larry Reynolds could not keep pace. No matter how the Phils choose to play the Howard deal, the next two months will see the Phillies dole out some hefty paychecks.
$65 million is already committed to the 2007 Phillies squad. This does not include the five arbitration-eligible players who are likely to receive the bulk of the upcoming salary payout, namely, Chase Utley, Brett Myers, Aaron Rowand, Geoff Geary and Ryan Madson. As said before, Utley should receive a long-term deal and so should Myers. More money will be needed for retooling the bullpen and even more potentially for bringing back players like Shane Victorino, Fabio Castro, Jose Hernandez, Rick White, Chris Coste, or Arthur Rhodes – some of whom are free agents. David Montgomery has always said there is no official limit on the Phillies’ 2007 payroll but that it would not be far off the 2006 number of $88 million. Don’t forget this does not include the $11 million going to the White Sox to subsidize Jim Thome, which has another installment due this season.
The point is that - as we seen thus far - the Phillies are unlikely to make a splash bigger than Adam Eaton in this off season’s free agent market. The money will instead be used to lock up a few young stars and pay for some bullpen arms. Let’s hope that’s good enough.