It's just money.

The Phillies' position in offering Ryan Howard less money than Adam Eaton to play baseball this season is that this is how their business runs.

The Flyers' position in pursuing talented-but-injury-suspect Peter Forsberg goes like this:

Aw, what the hell, it's just money.

It won't cost them draft picks, there will be no trade of talented young players that might compromise their future. Just the dough Ed Snider and his ownership group have often been willing to spend, particularly at this time of the year.

It's an interesting study of perception and reality, an interesting reflection of how we view the two franchises that have captured our interest this winter. Coming off a season in which they rallied dramatically to win the East Division from the Mets, spent around $100 million and owned the eighth-highest payroll in baseball, the Phillies have gone about their offseason business in a manner that is equal parts savvy and irksome.

It might have been fiscally prudent not to re-sign Aaron Rowand, yet the possible void it left in a clubhouse known for its spirit is disconcerting. Trading for closer Brad Lidge and returning Brett Myers to the starter's role made sense - except that Myers had enjoyed the role thrust upon him. Signing free-agent third baseman Pedro Feliz gives the Phillies an entire infield of 20-plus-home-run guys, yet it also underlines how badly miscalculated last winter's acquisition of Wes Helms was, and creates a glut of third basemen.

The Phillies' position on the Howard proceedings goes something like this: The collective bargaining agreement that binds Howard to the Phillies through the 2011 season, the negotiating process that often leads to an often-contentious arbitration hearing between player and club, was agreed upon by the players association. Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro - whose job description should also include "Management's Human Bullet Shield" - says their former MVP and Rookie of the Year first baseman understands this - even as his agent, Casey Close, remains ominously silent.

Even though Howard's pay requests have, for 3 years in a row, exceeded what the Phillies have offered.

Taking their popular, clutch and fan-friendly first baseman to arbitration might be routine baseball business, but it reminds long-suffering fans of the organization's past tightfisted policies, and tests any newfound belief that their current strategies are that different, or will remain that different. Especially with Howard's prolonged silence on the matter, or his MIA status during the Phillies' winter tour.

The Flyers get the bounce the other way. Based on their two losses this weekend, they might need a righthanded, puck-carrying defenseman more than they need Forsberg. Yet their status as frontrunners for his services in this very public derby sends an aggressive message to the fans who have returned to the Wachovia Center this season.

The best player in the world (when healthy) might be available?

Well, count us in.

It's just money.

And it sure doesn't hurt that Forsberg already has told about five NHL teams he is not interested, and is said to be ranking loyalty and competitiveness over money as factors in determing with which team to sign.

Would the Phillies ever get such a bounce? As recently as the Randy Wolf affair of this winter, it has often worked in opposite fashion. Is it fair to compare? Probably not, but fairness always has run its course disconnected from perception and reality. Fair is often interpretive, and the savvy always seem to get it.

Since their horrid Myers affair of a couple of summers ago, the Phillies' upper realm has become better at getting it. Sure, winning helps, as does fielding back-to-back, homegrown MVPs. But they have also positioned themselves better on matters like this, evidenced by how the public has absorbed the loss of Rowand and to a much lesser extent, Kyle Lohse.

Whether the clubhouse has absorbed it . . . that will be a spring-training theme. Rowand was the room's centerpiece, its spokesman, its heart on most days. Lohse was the midseason evidence that this team would incur the necessary salary bump to compete for a playoff berth.

The degree to which Lohse will be missed (if he is not re-signed) will depend on whether Myers can realign his mindset into that of a starter again, and whether Lidge returns fully from an off year and offseason knee surgery. The effect of Rowand's absence will be measured by how well the remaining stars take up the slack. Ryan Howard could be one of those guys.

Presuming of course, that he views the $3 million gap between what he thinks he's worth and what the Phillies do is only business, and not personal.


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