Panel awards Howard arbitration-record $10 million

Ryan Howard has already become part of history on the baseball field.

 Now, he's part of history in the court room. An independent panel of arbitrators ruled Thursday morning in favor of the Phillies slugger, awarding him an arbitration-record $10 million salary for the 2008 season.

Howard, who is just the second player in Major League Baseball history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in back-to-back seasons, is now the recipient of the largest sum ever awarded an arbitration-eligible player. Alfonso Soriano received $10 million from the Nationals in 2006, but it came in a losing effort, as the second baseman/outfielder had sought $12.5 million.

The verdict can only be seen as a blow to the Phillies, who were convinced their offer of $7 million was fair for a player who had only two years and 145 days of major league service.

"The panel decided, they made a decision: as far as his value is concerned, it is now $10 million," Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "It is what it is, and we'll move forward from there."

Amaro Jr. said that negotiations with Howard's agent, Casey Close, continued "right up until the courthouse steps."

Both men were present at the Rennaisance Vinoy hotel in downtown St. Petersburg well before the start of yesterday's meeting. Amaro said they came "close" to an agreement, but would not qualify his definition of "close."

"Close doesn't get it done though, when you are trying to get negotiations and trying to get things done," Amaro Jr. said. "But again, it's part of the process and we're looking forward to playing baseball now."