...The Phillies -- and the folks at MLB who "advise" clubs on salary-arbitration filings -- thought they were going to nail this case because no player with two-plus years' service time had ever made anywhere close to $10 million.
Matter of fact, Howard was asking for more than twice the $4.5-million salary the previous record-holder, Justin Morneau, had earned in this service class.
So by comparison to Morneau, the Phillies' offer of $7 million actually might have seemed generous. Not by coincidence, that offer happened to be exactly as much as Albert Pujols collected in his first year of arbitration eligibility in 2004.
The problem was, the arbitrators didn't buy the comparisons to either Morneau or Pujols. Turned out, the guy they were looking at was Miguel Cabrera.
Apparently, the panel tossed Pujols out of the argument because his salary wasn't determined by the arbitration process. It was the first year of his long-term, seven-year, $100-million contract.
And the arbitrators ostensibly decided Morneau wasn't a comparable enough player because Howard has outproduced not just Morneau, but just about everyone else in the sport since he arrived in the big leagues.
So that left Cabrera. And it appears the panel couldn't justify giving Howard less than the $7.4 million Cabrera cashed when he won his arbitration case against the Marlins last year.
"I really think that if the Phillies had filed above Cabrera's number, that would have made a major difference," said one baseball man familiar with the case. "At least at that number, even if he'd lost, the arbitrators could have said it's the largest award ever."