CLEARWATER, Fla. – E.F. Hutton had nothin’ on Ryan Howard Friday. When Howard talked, everyone was listening … intently. At one point in the day, though, we (the media) didn’t know if Howard would talk.
To eliminate numerous individual interview requests, the Phillies and Howard opted to hold one big “media availability.” Call it what you want, but when there’s a table, a Phillies backdrop, a microphone and speaker system set up, I call it a press conference. That’s where the problem stemmed from. Without a contract, with the possibility of an arbitration hearing looming and Comcast SportsNet set to take the “media availability” live, someone saw a media firestorm brewing … and I’m guessing that someone was Howard’s agent, Casey Close.
Just a couple of hours before the scheduled gathering the Phillies announced the “media availability” had been called off and that Ryan wouldn’t be talking Friday. It was a “mutual decision,” according to the Phillies.
So, how were they going to pull this off? With the high likelihood that the two sides are headed to the arbitration table, Ryan was going to somehow speed seven days workout out under the watchful eyes of reporters – without talking?
Though Ryan fortunately decided that the press conference-style spotlight was too bright for his liking, he was comfortable with his locker as the backdrop for a more informal meeting with 10 or so of his closest reporter buddies. There, he spoke for eight minutes and was funny, engaging and especially elusive when it came to questions about his contract. But never did he brush off anyone’s question without making a joke about it.
There, it’s over. Now was that really so painful?
One more thing on Ryan Howard: Although he’s here early, it’s nothing new for him. He has arrived early in the past and noted that he’s been working out at a gym near Tampa since the middle of January.
On Friday he was the last position player to finish his workout. He spent nearly an hour on the field with third-base coach Steve Smith, taking grounders and working on his footwork. He said he really wants to improve on his defense this year.
Isn’t it amazing that just a few short years ago barely anyone knew who Ryan Howard was?
Who is that guy?
Pat Burrell saw his shirt today for the first time. After being gone for two days, Burrell returned to the clubhouse only to find a teammate wearing a T-shirt with his mug on it. His first thought was, “what the [heck]?” Then he looked around the room and noticed that the shirts were in every locker. What really got him was the fact that his manager was even wearing one.
Burrell knows Chase Utley made them, and smiling, he said, “Chase doesn’t want to get in a T-shirt war with me because I’ll win.”
I can’t wait to see that shirt.
Meanwhile, I’ve had numerous requests/inquires about how to buy this shirt. Sorry. So far they are only made for members of the team. However, after passing on some of the e-mails I received to the Phillies, the idea was brought up of maybe making the shirts to sell and giving the money to Burrell’s favorite charity. It was only an idea mentioned in passing, but personally I think that’s a great idea.
Signed and sealed
Lost in all the Ryan Howard chasing is the fact that the Phillies have negotiated deals with several players. Headed into camp, the Phillies had 21 players (not named Howard) unsigned. But after Friday that is eight players down, 13 to go. Among those who have settled are, backup catcher Chris Coste, who will make $415,000 next season, and catcher Carlos Ruiz, who will make $425,000.
All of the unsigned players have less than three years major-league service time so they’re not eligible for arbitration.
March 2 is the first day the team can automatically renew contracts, but the Phillies typically negotiate deals before then. If they get to the point of renewal it means they couldn’t come to an agreement with the player. That rarely happens, but that’s what happened last year with Ryan Howard.
The notable names on the yet-to-be-signed list are: Cole Hamels, Shane Victorino, Kyle Kendrick and Gregg Dobbs. Hamels stands to make some good money, likely in the $500,000 range.