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Yikes: Howard asks for $18 million

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Shoulda seen this coming:

NEW YORK -- Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has asked for $18 million in salary arbitration, the third-highest figure submitted since the process began in 1974.

Philadelphia offered him $14 million, a raise of $4 million.

Houston's Roger Clemens set the record for highest request in arbitration at $22 million in 2005. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is second at $18.5 million in 2001.

We've been over this Howard thing again and again here. Ultimately the questions for both this contract and his possible long-term future as a Phillie are how reasonable he's willing to be, and how accommodating the team chooses to be. Howard wants to be paid like Alex Rodriguez and (soon enough) Albert Pujols, but his aspiration doesn't acknowledge that he, unlike both of them, has significant flaws. And the team, like it or not, operates within a budget and has other needs. Under certain circumstances, they probably would fear a P.R. hit by battling Howard and agent Casey Close, but coming off a world championship and having the rest of their stars happily under contract probably defuses that concern.

It's not very satisfying, but I think the right answer here is to continue down the present path of muddling through year by year with Howard until he reaches free agency and gets the payoff he wants, and then hope like hell you can come somewhat close to reproducing his unmatched power production. The alternative of every off-season is to trade him, but that option becomes less viable as his rising demands price virtually every non-New York/Boston/Los Angeles destination out of the market for his services.