Three years, $54 million, which doesn't buy out any years of free agency. Howard will get $15 million in '09, $19 million in '10 and $20 million in '11.
Players typically get raises each year they go to arbitration, so when a player asks for $18 million with three arbitration years to go, as Howard did this offseason, and actually gets it, I wonder what is supposed to happen after that, because there are few salaries in baseball higher than $18 million. Howard only made $10 million in 2008, so my guess is that he would have lost his arbitration case, been paid $14 million (which is what the Phillies offered and which, in my opinion, is a pretty fair offer for a good home run hitter who posted a .339 OBP last year), and had his 2010 and 2011 salaries rise from there.
In any case, Howard is a very good player, but he's pretty much the prototype of the guy who breaks down at around age 30--he's a slow first baseman, he's big, he's not a good defender, he strikes out constantly, he's had trouble hitting for average recently, and he's already showed signs of decline. Arbitration can be ugly, but if I were the Phillies, I'd have taken him there anyway. First on Howard's Baseball Reference comparable players list is Travis Hafner, and the four-year, $57 million nightmare contract the Indians gave Hafner in 2007 should've taught the Phillies something. The Howard deal won't save the Phillies much money in the next three years even if Howard plays brilliantly, and I wouldn't bet on him playing brilliantly.