Ryan Howard signed a 5-year, $125 million extension yesterday. Let’s start with the obvious – he’s already an icon in Philly, he’s put together four consecutive years of Ruthian power numbers, and he’s at the center of the Phillies’ 3-straight NL East titles and back-to-back World Series appearances. They had to extend him. Strangely, the internet seemed to hate the deal.
* He can’t hit lefties!
* He’s not the best fielder in the world!
* What’s the rush? Why not just wait another year or two before extending him? (this is the only point we agree with)
* History says guys his size usually break down in their 30s!
* His comps at 29 are Richie Sexson, Cecil Fielder and Mo Vaughn! (apparently, people forget Howard’s career started at 25 because he was stuck behind Jim Thome)
And now, onto the professionals:
The Phillies are the Yankees. They are, in the words of Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci, one of the “mega-teams” now. They have paid their big stars big money and have locked up their little ones, too. They have, or had, a talent-rich farm system that gave them the edge over the other contenders to pluck Cliff Lee during the last trade deadline, and in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes last fall as well.
They have the highest television ratings of any National League team. They have sold out their park 48 times in a row. And they now have guaranteed that the No. 1 reason for those sellouts – a 6-4, 255-pound Ruthian figure who creates collective gasps when he squares a ball up – will be in their uniform through the 2016 season.
His 5-year contract extension will cost them an additional $125 million to do that, and Ryan Howard will be a year older than Jeter is now when the deal is through. The deal is one of the richest in baseball history, but may end up being a bit of a bargain once potential 2011 free agents Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez sign new deals.
“This is one of the worst extension of its kind — it’s an overpay in both years and dollars. Howard is one of the last guys in the middle of the lineup I’d give that kind of money, too. He’s 30, has a bad body, is not a good defender, and has struggled to make contact to versus lefties — he’s gone backwards in that area over the past couple of years. If you were locking him up through age 31, it’s not so bad. How happy are if you’re Albert Pujols? If Howard is worth $25 million, Pujols is worth $50 million a year.”
That is what makes the Phillies’ signing of Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million contract extension on Monday so puzzling. The deal tethers the Phillies to a lumbering first baseman — at a staggering cost of $25 million annually (or a little less than one-fifth of its current payroll) — through his mid-30s, when players almost inevitably suffer significant declines in production. Such deals are how perennial champions turn themselves into bloated underachievers.
Are they taking a serious risk by doing that? No doubt about that. But what, ultimately, were their alternatives?
First off, one baseball man said, “You can’t say you want to build around a guy and then offer him a two-year extension.” So the number of years in this deal just became the cost of doing this sort of business.
And beyond that, if the Phillies waved goodbye to Howard, how exactly were they going to replace him? With Pujols? They’d never get him out of St. Louis. With Adrian Gonzalez? How could they be sure he could handle a place like Philadelphia? With Prince Fielder? He’s a Scott Boras auction waiting to happen.
So maybe the Phillies could have plugged this hole with a Carlos Pena here or a Paul Konerko there. But that isn’t what they had in mind. That isn’t where they see their franchise going.
They now are officially committed to keeping their core group of local heroes for as long as the dollars in their checking account, and the customers stampeding through their gates, will allow.
The Phillies are bucking an industry trend by investing huge sums of money into players as they age through their 30s. In 2012, they will spend $55.2 million on three players: Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley — that’s more than the Athletics, Padres and Pirates will pay their entire teams this year. (Halladay will be 35, Howard 32 and Utley 33.) This contract unofficially places Philadelphia with the Yankees and Red Sox in the upper elite of teams, because they can afford to keep players off the market as they age.
And the commitment to Howard at age 30 (the extension starts at age 32) also is a bold bet. It is the third-most amount of money guaranteed to a player at least 30 years old at the time of the contract. When you look at the list below, you will find poor returns on investment when it comes to massive amounts of money for players as they age through their 30s.
This kind of talk galls those who worship the almighty stat to the exclusion of all else. Howard’s entire career rattles their cages, which is one more reason to enjoy his work. The advanced stats prove that Howard isn’t as productive, on a hard drive somewhere, as several dozen other players.
He strikes out too much. He doesn’t get on base enough. He doesn’t draw enough walks. Wade into the sabermetrics and you’d wonder why the Phillies didn’t just go ahead and put their big first baseman on the waiver wire.
And the stat guys – trust me on this – howled at the notion that you can learn anything about a baseball player by an otherwise meaningless infield single on opening day.