CLEARWATER, Fla. - Over the last four years, Ryan Howard has won everything except a Grammy.

Rookie of the Year. Most Valuable Player. Home-run and RBI championships twice each.

And, of course, a World Series ring.

All this helped Howard land a three-year, $54 million contract from the Phillies earlier this week.

How does someone who has done so much stay hungry?

"I show up in Tampa on Jan. 5 after we won a World Series, drop 20 pounds, and come out here and just work," Howard said yesterday after a workout at Bright House Field.

The 29-year-old slugger appeared at a news conference to make his first public remarks since avoiding salary arbitration and signing his new contract.

The Phillies and Howard had failed to reach an accord in each of the last two years. His contract was unilaterally renewed for $900,000 in 2007. The first baseman won $10 million in arbitration last year. Both years, the two sides discussed multiyear deals but couldn't get one done.

Why now?

"We were just able to agree," Howard said with a laugh. "I was always open to a multiyear deal."

The nation's sagging economy has hit baseball this winter. A number of free agents have signed for significantly less than they had anticipated going into the off-season.

Did the economy help facilitate the deal?

"Not so much," Howard said. "We were just able to get a deal both sides felt good about."

Howard hit 150 home runs faster than any player in major-league history and has 177 in 572 games. He leads the majors in homers with 153 and RBIs with 431 over the last three seasons.

When the sides failed to reach agreement, there were rumblings that Howard was looking for a package in the neighborhood of $200 million - Alex Rodriguez money.

"I don't know where all of that came from, so I can't really say too much on it," Howard said.

His contract has an average annual value of $18 million - the highest ever for a Phillie - and runs through 2011, when he will be eligible for free agency. The two sides discussed a longer deal before settling on three years.

"The longer, the better, obviously, but I'm happy with what we have," Howard said. "We'll ride these three years out and see what happens."

Howard has made 45 errors, the most among major-league first basemen, the last three seasons. There has been speculation that he might be better suited for the American League, where he could be a designated hitter, in future years.

Howard is committed to playing first base for years to come. That's why he reported to camp early and worked on conditioning and defensive skills, particularly footwork and glove-positioning, with new infield coach Sam Perlozzo.

"I'm working on my defense because I want to continue playing in the field," he said. "I'm trying to work on every facet of my game - offense, defense, speed, strength."

Howard looks strong and is noticeably thinner since last season. His 20-pound weight drop has put him between 250 and 255 pounds. A buddy, Jared Fogle, the slimmed-down Subway pitchman, would be proud. (They filmed a commercial together.)

"My whole body just feels better," Howard said. "My endurance is better."

With Rodriguez recently admitting to using performance enhancers from 2001 to 2003, the subject of drugs is once again a hot topic. Howard's career has coincided with the drug-testing era.

"I don't need to do any of that stuff," Howard said. "I don't want to do any of that stuff. But everyone who is playing in the present day has to deal with that cloud. That's frustrating."

With money matters out of the way, Howard can concentrate on baseball. He would like to eliminate his slow starts of the last two years, but he's not worried about strikeouts. (He has had 199 in each of the last two seasons.)

"Strikeouts are part of the game," he said. "Deal with it."

One of 11 players the Phils have on multiyear contracts that run beyond 2009, Howard believes this team is capable of winning more titles.

"We have to forget about 2008 and focus on 2009," he said. "I think we'll be able to make that run again."