The renewal of spring hasn’t been as sweet as Ryan Howard (contract) expected.
Philadelphia’s 27-year-old slugger had hoped to parlay his 2006 MVP season into a lucrative long-term contract. He and his agent, Casey Close, discussed a multi-year deal with the Phillies this off-season. When those talks failed to yield an agreement, the two sides discussed a one-year contract including award and performance bonuses.
But when Howard chose not to accept the team’s salary figure, the Phillies renewed his contract for 2007 unilaterally, forcing Howard to settle for a one-year, $900,000 deal without any incentive clauses.
Though his 2007 salary is a record for a player with less than two years in the majors, the renewal cost Howard, whose contract has been renewed at the Phillies’ salary figure each of the last two off-seasons.
Each March, clubs may unilaterally renew contracts of unsigned players who are not yet eligible for salary arbitration. The right of renewal gives a club a decided advantage in salary negotiations and leaves the player with a choice. He can accept the offer and sign his contract, or he can refuse to sign and face the prospect of his team renewing his contract at a salary the club chooses, a figure often less than the original offer.
The process can be a frustrating fact of life for “0-to-3 players,” those who lack the nearly three years of Major League service needed to qualify for salary arbitration.
“The fact that the 0-3 guys are told what they will make is an imperfect system at best,” said an agent who represents several young players. “In nearly all situations, it creates the scenario whereby the player says, ‘OK, I'll bide my time, but you will pay in the end.”
Young stars have not always been willing to wait. After winning the AL Cy Young and MVP award in 1986, Roger Clemens walked out of training camp the next spring when the Red Sox threatened to renew his contract for $400,000. Clemens boycotted the exhibition season before agreeing to a 2-year deal guaranteeing him about $2 million.
The process is rarely as acrimonious today, although it can lay the groundwork for future negotiations as a player reaches his arbitration years and free agency.
Complicating matters this off-season is a significant increase in the minimum major-league salary, which jumps from $327,000 last season to $380,000 for 2007. Player agents see the new minimum as a starting point, while clubs tend to view the $53,000 jump in the minimum as a significant pay raise by itself.
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The Marlins, who lead the league in young players, renewed 12 players on their 40-man roster, nine of them at the $380,000 minimum. Florida renewed Hanley Ramirez’ (contract) deal for $402,000, a $75,000 raise over 2006. Yet Ramirez’s 2007 salary will be just $22,000 more than the 2007 minimum, making him just the second Rookie of the Year to make less than $25,000 more than the following year's league minimum (Oakland renewed 2005 AL Rookie of the Year Huston Street (contract) for 2006 at $339,625, just $12,625 more than the minimum).
As February ended, the Pirates had 15 players yet to sign 2007 contracts. The club set a March 2 deadline for the unsigned players to reach agreement or face a possible fine. Each of the players signed, with the exception of left-hander Sean Burnett, whose contract was renewed at the $380,000 minimum.
But low-budget teams aren’t alone in exercising their renewal rights this spring. The Yankees renewed the contract of right-hander Chien-Ming Wang (contract) for $489,000 after he and agent Alan Nero chose not to accept the club’s offer of $514,050. Boston renewed leadoff hitter Kevin Youkilis for $424,000.
The Angels took a hard-line stance with two members of their starting rotation, Jered Weaver (contract) and Joe Saunders (contract), who were renewed at $380,000. Weaver had turned down a $390,000 offer.
The Padres renewed the contract of 2006 team MVP Adrian Gonzalez (contract) for $380,500 (just $500 more than the minimum) after he turned down their offer of $391,500. Gonzalez’ contract situation prompted veteran reliever Trevor Hoffman to suggest that the Padres should tear up Gonzalez’ one-year deal and discuss a multi-year contract.
Although a renewal has the potential to create friction between a club and a young star player, the damage is not necessarily permanent. Philadelphia renewed Chase Utley in both 2005 and 2006 before signing him to a seven-year, $85 million deal in January. So there’s hope yet for a long-term relationship between the Phillies and Ryan Howard.
Players whose 2007 deals were renewed:
- Atlanta: Jeff Francoeur ($427,000) and Phil Stockman
- Boston: Kevin Youkilis ($424,000), Javier Lopez
- Cincinnati: Brandon Phillips ($407,500)
- Detroit: Jason Grilli
- Florida: Dan Uggla ($392,000), Anibal Sanchez ($381,000) and Alfredo Amezaga, Robert Andino, Jeremy Hermida, Mike Jacobs, Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco, Scott Olsen, Taylor Tankersley and Josh Willingham (all $380,000).
- Houston: Chad Qualls ($441,000) and Luke Scott ($382,000)
- Los Angeles Angels: Joe Saunders and Jared Weaver ($380,000)
- Milwaukee: Prince Fielder ($415,000)
- NY Mets: Aaron Heilman ($453,000)
- NY Yankees: Chien-Ming Wang ($489,000)
- Oakland: Joe Blanton and Huston Street
- Philadelphia: Ryan Howard ($900,000)
- Pittsburgh: Sean Burnett ($380,000)
- San Diego: Adrian Gonzalez ($380,500)
- Seattle: Felix Hernandez ($420,000)
- Washington: Ryan Zimmerman ($400,000)
Jeff Euston is a Kansas City-area attorney. He tracks the market for contracts for MLB players and draft picks at Cot's Baseball Contracts. He may be contacted at