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The Howard Effect

In January, former ROY and MVP Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies won a record $10 million for a 1st-year-eligible arbitration player.  While noted, it took second stage to the 24 hours a day/seven days a week coverage of the Johan Santana Trade Watch.  Too bad, as I expect this case to have chilling effects for mid- and small-market teams.

A major league player becomes eligible for arbitration after three full seasons in the majors.  Ryan Howard qualified under the Super Two exception which awards those players in the top 17% of all players with major league service time between two and three years.

The way arbitration works is the player submits a salary figure based on what comparable players with similar playing time have earned.  Howard blew past that convention and asked for $10MM and won.

How does this chill small- and mid-market teams?  By seeing there 1st-year-eligibles use Ryan Howard's award as a benchmark against what they should be paid!  

As a result, small- and mid-market teams are likely to see their players salaries escalate much more quickly than had previously been the custom.  Instead of having to deal Dontrelle Willis before his fifth season to avoid the big jump in arbitration awards given to third-year eligibles, they may need to deal him after the first.

Additionally, what could happen is teams would send down their top prospects, like Evan Longoria in Tampa Bay, not to get an extra year of control in 2014, but to avoid a potential eight-figure arbitration award after the 2010 season!

This is the Howard Effect, and it can change how quickly big market teams can pluck prime talent from their smaller market brethren.

Here is a list of likely first-year arbitration eligibles following the 2008 campaign.  Any in here look like they can make a Ryan Howard-esque argument for a $10MM salary?

Andre Ethier
Ian Kinsler
Mike Napoli
Nick Markakis
Dan Uggla
Russell Martin
Kevin Youkilis
Melky Cabrera
Prince Fielder
Conor Jackson
Brandon Phillips
Ryan Zimmerman
Josh Willingham
Shane Victorino
Hanley Ramirez