NO BIG DEAL FOR HOWARD

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Pat Burrell congratulates Ryan Howard after the first baseman hit a home run in his first at-bat of spring.

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Ryan Howard's offensive production will probably earn him a multimillion-dollar deal someday. It just won't be this season.

The 2006 National League Most Valuable Player failed to reach an agreement with the Phillies on a multiyear contract, leading the club to exercise its right to renew the first baseman's contract for this season.

The 1-year renewal is worth $900,000, with no bonuses or incentives included. Howard made $355,000 last season.

"We didn't get to the finish line on this one, but we'll continue with talks in the future," said Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Howard, who is eligible for salary arbitration at the end of next season, can't be a free agent until after the 2011 season. He said although it is a bit frustrating and disappointing that an agreement wasn't reached, he is ready to get on with the business of playing.

"You can't change it. There's no use of crying over spilled milk," Howard said after a 6-4 win over Cleveland yesterday at Bright House Networks Field in the Phils' Grapefruit League home opener. "It is what it is. We obviously didn't reach an agreement, so now, it's done and over with and you just have to go out and play."

Howard will still earn nearly three times what he made last season. His contract matches that of the Cardinals' Albert Pujols, who earned $900,000 in 2002 - the year before he became eligible for arbitration.

The following season, Pujols signed a 7-year deal worth $100 million.

If the failure to reach an agreement bothered Howard, he sure didn't let it show yesterday. At the top of the third inning, facing a 1-2 count, Howard jacked a home run that traveled an estimated 460 feet before landing in a pond.

Sources close to the negotiations said Howard was presented with several scenarios, including a 1-year deal believed to be worth more money, but the 2005 National League Rookie of the Year elected to leave that offer on the table as well.

Yesterday was the first day teams could exercise their right to sign players with whom they have failed to reach an agreement. The Phillies often try to take care of their signings on the first day of this period, which runs through March 11.

"Our goal is to always try to get agreements because we try to be very fair with our players," Amaro said. "Is it a concern? No, it's just part of the process. To me, it's no harm, no foul. Ryan is a special player. We think we have treated him in a special way and we hope to maybe do something more substantial in the future."

Howard said he and agent Casey Close don't believe the renewal would create tension in future negotiations with the organization.

While bonuses and incentives are absent, the 27-year-old slugger says he is just glad the contract is done and he can put it behind him.

"That's not why I go out there and do it anyway," he said. "I don't try to win all the awards or whatever. If that stuff comes along and it happens, that's just icing on the cake. My focus is going out helping the team win a championship, get them a ring and have a little celebration in the city of Philadelphia."

Game stuff

Brett Myers won his spring-training debut despite giving up two solo home runs in his three innings. Myers, who gave up both homers on full counts, said he felt OK in his first outing.

"I'm not going to get in the habit of walking somebody," said Myers after the game. "I threw it right down the middle and they got it."

Myers, who gave up four hits and two runs, said it was too early start evaluating himself. He has only used his fastball and cutter so far in training because he said he isn't comfortable with his other pitches yet.

"He pitched OK," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He had a pretty good breaking ball and good fastball for his first time out. He got his work in."

Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino each stole a base in the first inning. Manuel said he has encouraged aggressive baserunning and would like to see more steals from both Rollins and Victorino.

Last season, Rollins led the team with 36 stolen bases. Victorino had four.

Manuel joked afterward that he was setting the bar high for both, more particularly Victorino.

"It's hard to put a number on it. He has to steal more than four, though," he said. "He definitely has a chance to steal some bases. I'm thinking about 30 or more. Once he starts getting some breaks and leads, he'll be fine. That's why I want them doing it a lot now. The more you do it, the more confident you get."

Phillers

Closer Tom Gordon is expected to pitch today when the Phillies face the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers. Gordon has not appeared in a spring-training game yet but Charlie Manuel assures that the 39-year-old righthander is perfectly healthy and getting his work in. "As long as he's ready for Opening Day, that's all we're worried about" he said . . . Righthander Adam Eaton is scheduled to start today. Geoff Geary, Matt Smith and Brian Mazone are also expected to pitch. *