CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Reigning National League MVP Ryan Howard's contract negotiations have entered the final stretch.

Beginning Friday, teams may renew contracts for any unsigned players. Should common ground not be found between the Phillies and Casey Close, Howard's agent, the team can determine the player's 2007 salary.

The team declined to comment on any day-to-day negotiations with Howard, the lone unsigned player on the 40-man roster.

Despite belting 58 homers en route to winning the NL MVP Award in 2006, Howard has no leverage in any contract negotiations, but will likely receive a substantial raise from the $355,000 he earned in 2006.

The Cubs' Kerry Wood earned $690,000 after his rookie season, the largest amount for a player with as little experience as Howard, who has less than two years of Major League service. The $900,000 earned by Albert Pujols in 2003 is also comparable, since Pujols was a year away from salary arbitration at the time, like Howard is now.

Last week, Phillies general manager Pat Gillick contacted Close and was believed to be working toward a one-year deal that would likely set a record for a player with so little Major League experience. A multi-year extension is the next step, though that will likely have to wait until after the season.

Howard, true to character, isn't concerned.

"I'm sure everyone here's been promised something and never had it come true," Howard said last week. "My outlook is that everyone can say what they want, and, hopefully, that day comes."

Either way, Howard will remain in Philadelphia for several years. Gillick, assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and team president David Montgomery have all gone record stating that very goal.

Schmidt tackles topics: Mike Schmidt had more to say.

Much, much more.

On his first day in Clearwater, Fla., to kick off his 10-day stint as a special guest instructor, the Hall of Fame third baseman met with the media for 33 minutes on Monday morning. While the bulk of the discussion focused on his desire to see Pat Burrell strike out less and his regret for the way his recent comments on the subject were received, Schmidt also spoke about other topics.

On the lack of Hall of Fame support for Mark McGwire:
"That was interesting. I wasn't sure which way it was going to go. I think it set precedent that anyone who has been associated with steroids or substance abuse isn't going to get in for sure on their first opportunity. And you know who those people are."

For the record, Schmidt would have voted for McGwire.

"I just think Mark McGwire, along with Sammy [Sosa], sort of saved the game in the late '90s. I don't see how we could all ride on the shoulders of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for four or five years, and not write or say much about the steroid element, just watch the players, enjoy them, love the life, the [heck] with what was going on.

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"And now, when it comes time for these guys to be honored, all of a sudden bring up the issue of steroids and connect them. People have written books about these guys and made a lot of money, and given the chance to put them in the Hall of Fame, they say no. I don't understand."

On whether the public would forgive McGwire if there was a reason for him to be forgiven. After all, steroids weren't against the rules during McGwire's era:

"Yes. If I were Mark's people, I'd have him at a press conference tomorrow. I don't want to assume he's guilty of something, but if he was, people forgive. He could do a lot of good. I don't think he's handled his opportunities in front of the public nearly as well as he could have. Had it done in the right way, in my mind, he'd be in the Hall of Fame. He probably would have been elected this year. That whole denial [at the 2005 congressional hearings] was the worst thing in the world for him."

On his often tenuous relationship with the fans:
"If I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now, I would've handled it totally different. I felt I had the power to change everything. I wanted to fight every fan in the stands that was booing. They didn't know I was in my garage in Media, [Pa.], at 3 o'clock in the morning beating balls of the tee trying to figure it out. They didn't know what I went through to be the player I was. Booing shouldn't hurt, and you shouldn't be as sensitive as I was.

"The tough thing is it perpetuates when we talk about it. I'm answering questions about it and you're going to write an article and the word 'B-O-O' is going to be in there. Then, somewhere the fans are going to feel 'all right, that's us!' If I was a baseball fan in Philadelphia, I'd probably be sitting up there with a sense of 'that's my team, and when they don't perform, I'm going to boo." That would be my attitude, and it's hard on the players. That's the way it is, and as a player, you have get over it and perform with it. If it really hurts, or makes you feel uncomfortable or makes you try too hard, you have to figure out a way around it."

On the 2007 Phillies:
"Spring Training is the time when everybody is optimistic about the team's chances. Everyone is tied at no wins and no losses. For the past five or six years, I've been coming here as a guest and I've thought the optimism was here every year. Honestly, I don't know that on paper that there's a better team than this team right here.

"Offensively, they're one of the top three or four teams. Defensively, they're one of the top three or four teams. And they're starting pitching goes six or seven deep. Tom Gordon had a fantastic year last year. He did more than a lot of people ever would've expected. His injury at the end has to be considered. If that hadn't happened, it might've been better. I don't see a weakness. I'm looking at the names on the roster going, 'Whoa.' How can you have a better pool of players to use than the Phillies have right now?"

Philling in: The Phils will have an abbreviated workout on Tuesday because of an afternoon golf outing. ... The following pitchers are scheduled to follow Kyle Drabek in Wednesday's exhibition game against Florida State University: John Ennis, Jim Ed Warden, Joe Bisenius, Ryan Cameron, Jeff Farnsworth and Alfredo Simon.