PHILADELPHIA - Ryan Howard just wanted to concentrate on baseball this spring. No squabbles over his contract. No daily questions about his future.
The big slugger got his wish - and a hefty raise too.
Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies agreed to a $54 million, three-year contract yesterday, avoiding a potentially contentious arbitration hearing.
The 2006 NL MVP will earn $15 million this season, $19 million next year, and $20 million in 2011.
"The things that have happened prior with Ryan, it was really nothing adversarial, although I know with some people it was depicted that way," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "We just agreed to disagree. It didn't make us love Ryan any less, and it didn't make Ryan love us any less."
Howard led the majors with 48 homers and 146 RBIs last season while helping the Phillies win their first World Series title since 1980. He batted just .251, struck out 199 times, and made 19 errors at first base, but he also was runner-up to Albert Pujols for MVP.
"I'm happy to have this done and to know that I'll be in Philadelphia for at least another three years," Howard said in a statement.
The 29-year-old Howard has less than four years service time in the majors, so he wasn't eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season. Now the two sides won't have to worry about any more arbitration hearings.
"We're very pleased to have avoided the arbitration process, not just for this year, but also for the next two," Amaro said. "Ryan is clearly one of the top power hitters and run producers in the major leagues and is a very important part of our championship club."
Howard 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. A hearing was scheduled for later this week.
Howard won his arbitration case last year when he was awarded $10 million, the highest figure given a victorious player.
A fifth-round draft pick in 2001, Howard quickly established himself as one of the premier sluggers in the majors once he finally reached the big leagues. His path to Philadelphia initially was blocked by Jim Thome, who signed an $85 million, six-year contract in December, 2002.
An injury to Thome during the 2005 season paved the way for Howard, who had 22 homers and 63 RBIs in just 88 games to win the NL rookie of the year award.
He followed that up with one of the best sophomore seasons in history. Howard had 58 homers, 149 RBIs, and a .313 average in '06, nearly lifting the Phillies into the playoffs. He batted .268 with 47 homers and 136 RBIs in '07 in what was considered a down year for him.
The Texas Rangers signed one-time star centerfielder Andruw Jones to a $500,000 minor league contract, hoping he can bounce back from a dismal 2008 season, Major League Baseball said yesterday.
Jones could make up to $1 million in bonuses. The five-time all-star and 10-time Gold Glove winner is coming off a lost season with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"He's certainly been a superstar for quite a few years," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
"These past few years have been down for him, but I like the fact that he brings 10 Gold Gloves, he's a winner, and he fits well into our clubhouse. He has something to prove."
The 31-year-old native of Curacao spent 12 years with the Braves after coming up as a precocious 19-year-old and earned a reputation for being an outstanding defensive player and a productive power hitter.
He became a free agent after the 2007 season in Atlanta when his batting average dropped to .222 with 26 home runs and 94 RBIs, and the Dodgers signed him to a two-year deal worth $36.2 million.
Jones, who appeared to be overweight, hit just .158 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 75 games for the Dodgers and was hobbled by knee injuries that landed him on the disabled list.
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