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Howard is fighting a losing battle

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Salary arbitration figures were exchanged the other day, and to nobody's surprise, the biggest disparity was between the Philadelphia Phillies and superstar first baseman Ryan Howard.

Philadelphia offered the runner-up to the NL's MVP Award $14 million, a $4 million raise from last season, while Howard countered with $18 million, the third-richest request in arbitration history after Roger Clemens ($22 million) in 2005 and Derek Jeter ($18.5 million) in '01.

Neither Clemens nor Jeter met with the arbiter in their respective cases, as both settled before negotiations ever reached that point.

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for such a settlement to happen with the Phillies and Howard, though.

The little dance between these two has been going on for some time now. I don't think anyone expects Howard to sign long-term anytime soon. But then again, the Phils, for whatever reason, don't seem all that eager to lock him up either.

Philadelphia never went to the arbitration table with shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and also signed second baseman Chase Utley before it ever got to that point. Just this past weekend, the team knocked out three of Cole Hamels' arbitration years with an extension.

So what is the holdup here with Howard? Are his demands crazy, or is it just a case of him not being a top priority for the Phillies? It is probably a little of both, but depending on who you believe, Howard wants Alex Rodriguez money, and the Phillies are not even going to entertain that idea.

Last season, his first year of arbitration, the Phillies were wrong in low- balling Howard with a $7 million offer. He eventually wound up winning his request of $10 million, but there is obviously some lingering bad blood there on both sides.

Howard's representatives built a winning case last year by invoking a "special accomplishment" provision and comparing their client to the game's top sluggers, regardless of service time. Howard, who can't be a free agent until after 2011, leads the majors with 153 homers and 431 RBI the last three years while finishing first, fifth and second, respectively, in NL MVP voting.

This year, Howard does not really have a case. The Phillies made a more than fair offer. Then again, if Howard came in at $16 million, he may have beaten the Phils again. That extra $2 million figures to be the difference.

Sure, he has out-produced everyone since entering the league and again led the league in home runs (48) and RBI (146) this past season, while carrying his team into the playoffs with one of the best down-the-stretch performances in recent memory, but does it warrant an $8 million raise?

Absolutely not, considering he was hitting just above .220 in August, strikes out at a record pace and his fielding at first base is among the worst in the league.

Albert Pujols is making $16 million this season. He is a two-time MVP, a better all-around hitter, and is a top-five defender at first base. Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau also has an MVP Award and a runner-up finish under his belt. He signed a six-year, $80 million extension before the start of last season.

Does Howard deserve any more than those two?

Hopefully for Philadelphia's sake, these two meet somewhere in the middle. Maybe a $16.5 million deal would get it done and save everyone the trouble of another arbitration hearing.

Either way, though, I am sure we will be going through this again next January.

IS JEFF KENT A HALL OF FAMER?

Jeff Kent has decided to call it quits after 17 seasons in the big leagues. Kent will undoubtedly go down as one of the best offensive second baseman to ever play the game, but is he a Hall of Famer?

Kent's most productive offensive seasons were as a member of the San Francisco Giants, for whom he was the NL MVP in 2000 after hitting .334 with 33 home runs, 125 RBI and 114 runs scored. In three different years, while batting behind Barry Bonds, Kent hit more than 30 home runs and drove in more than 100 runs.

A five-time All-Star, Kent's 351 career home runs as a second baseman are the most in baseball history and 74 more than Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg.

His offensive numbers at second base are just too good to keep him out of the Hall, but I will take Craig Biggio any day over Kent.

DON ZIMMER RECOVERING AFTER STROKE

Baseball lifer Don Zimmer is on the mend after suffering a mild stroke last month. Zimmer, who will celebrate his 78th Birthday on Saturday, is still in the process of regaining some of the speech and mobility that he lost, but he still plans on joining the Tampa Bay Rays in spring training for what will be his 61st season in the game.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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