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The Phillies will regret the Ryan Howard extension

Apr 26, 2010, 2:53 PM EDT

howardryan.jpgRyan Howard is making $19 million this year and will get $20M in 2011.  Now, courtesy of the extension he just signed, he’ll make $20 million in 2012 and 2013 as well, and $25M per year for 2014, 2015 and 2016. There’s a team option for 2017 at $23M with $10M buyout. He also gets a limited no-trade guarantee, the parameters of which are not yet known.

This is madness.

Don’t get me wrong: I like Ryan Howard. You like Ryan Howard. We all like Ryan Howard. He’s a great player. He’s already been an integral part of one World Series championship team and another pennant winning team. He hits the ball a long way. He’s worked hard to improve both his conditioning and his defense. He’s, by all accounts, everything you want in a player when it comes to demeanor, leadership, maturity, etc.

But he’s also — at best — the third most valuable player on the Phillies, and reasonable arguments can be made that he’s not even that high. He’s big and he’s slow and despite that extra work he’s put in, it’s more likely than not that he’s going to age poorly.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of Ryan Howard’s most comparable players through age 29 — his age for the 2009 season — according to Baseball-Reference.com: Richie Sexson, Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, Willie McCovey, David Ortiz, Tony Clark, Mark McGwire, Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff and Norm Cash.  The only two guys on that list who didn’t fall off a cliff before age 36 are McCovey and McGriff, and they were a heck of lot skinnier than even Ryan Howard v.2.0 is. The rest of those names should constitute nightmare fuel for Phillies fans.

But the thing is, Howard doesn’t even have to fall off a cliff in the next five years for this deal to be bad. It’s bad on day one. Why? Because while we all like Ryan Howard, he’s not as good as many like to think he is.  Lefties are kryptonite to him.  He doesn’t walk nearly as much as a slugger like him should. While he’s better than he was on defense, he’s still bad and, before this contract was signed, seems like a guy who was on the DH-express.

As of now, Ryan Howard is going to paid more than anyone in the game not named Alex Rodriguez. Unless you can tell me that you can’t think of anyone else in baseball not named Alex Rodriguez who is better than Ryan Howard, this contract makes no sense. And if you tell me that, you make no sense.

In other news: Albert Pujols: call your agent. Your asking price just went up by $10 million.

  1. BC - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    I agree.
    It’s definitely 3 years too many. Howard will likely decline by then. Now you’ve put yourself in a position where you can’t trade him to the AL. The rest of the Phillies core (Rollins, Utley, Ibanez, Werth) will all be at least 37 years old. They won’t all hold up.
    Jamie Moyer will only be 53 in 2015, so at least you have that.

  2. Phil - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    I don’t see what the urgency is. He’s signed through 2011. If Howard’s camp came to the Phillies with that proposal, what would make them jump at it? It’s not at a discount and only seems to be for the benefit of Howard.
    On the flipside, what would make the Phillies come at him with that offer right now? There may not be many top first basemen in the league right now, but there also aren’t many teams that can pay above $20mm for a first baseman…

  3. Largebill - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    Not my money, but this is crazy. Offensive linemen don’t tend to have long careers in baseball. If he can avoid the tendency us “big-boned” guys have of putting on pounds as the metabolism slows then maybe this won’t go a badly as I expect. However, based on current evidence I have to assume he will put on a few pounds as he ages.

  4. RP - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    Dear Lord, Ruben Amaro must have found a winning lottery ticket for the Mega Millions jackpot or something.
    Although I do have to quibble with Craig’s characterization that “[u]nless you can tell me that you can’t think of anyone else in baseball not named Alex Rodriguez who is better than Ryan Howard, this contract makes no sense.” The market bears what it will bear, and the contract could make sense even if guys like Mauer, Pujols, Tex, etc. are better. The fact that it doesn’t make sense has more to do with the fact that the Phillies had Howard locked up through his prime and could have saved the money for another player and another day. Instead, we Phillies fans will likely be looking back fondly at the flags on the wall from 2008, 2009 (hey, the NL pennant counts), and hopefully 2010 and 2011 while watching a money-restricted team struggle for 80 wins in 2015. To be fair, if you asked me about that option on October 31, 2008, I’d have said go for it. But the front office is supposed to do some more detailed analysis.
    Wait, I do have a few other explanations:
    1. The Phillies secretly expect that the DH will be approved for the National League before 2013. I’m not saying this makes the deal a good one, just that it makes it less bad.
    2. The Phillies believe the world will end in 2012. The prophecies are true, so why not rain a few more bucks now?
    3. The Phillies did this to screw with the Cardinals to ensure NL dominance for the next three years. It’s okay — we all want to see Pujols in a Red Sox uniform sooner than later.
    4. They’re expanding Citizens Bank Park to include 10,000 seats in the parking lot, and all the seats sold out immediately. At that point, Ruben needed to find a way to explain why Cliff Lee was dealt, because no one was believing the farm system line anymore.
    5. They knew Craig and the guys here needed something to talk about.

  5. Largebill - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    Another thing. . . . .
    If I’m another team in the NL East, I’m paying the hotel to send him double portions of room service. “Welcome to town Mr. Howard. Good news, we started an all you can eat pizza buffet in the lobby.”

  6. Jonny5 - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    I wonder if this could be a prelude to seeing Howard go to Bahhhstan? They need a DH like really bad. Philly needs bullpen help like really bad. Boston has s sh!tload of relievers standing around. I wonder……?????? Nahhhh. But then again… “Ryan, what would it take to make you happy in beantown?” Ok, Ok, Got that, Wow, that’s a sweet deal, lemme check what they say.” Since at this point it’s quite obvious that Werth is more valuable at the game. I’m pulling thoughts outta my azz at this point, but you never know.

  7. Steve - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    Have you even watch the Phillies play? As for more valuable, he has finished top-3 in NL MVP voting in 3 of his first 4 full seasons. (Last I checked, MVP stands for Most Valuable Player, and thats in the league, not on his team) He has not played fewer than 144 games, on a team where Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley miss large chunks of time yearly. He has consistently gotten better over the past three years, AFTER hitting 58 home runs… His defense is now above average for a first-baseman, and his plate discipline has become outstanding. Don’t get me wrong, he’ll take a bad strike out here and now, but nothing like he was, and he has begun hitting singles to the left side of the infield… The braves even take the shift off for him now… It was a good deal for a guy that is getting paid in line with Mark Texieria and Miguel Cabrera, and I’d rather have Ryan.

  8. Erik - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    OK so yes it is a lot of money and it is for a long time, but it is definitely worth it. Howard is not even comparable to the guys mentioned above who fell off the cliff. Howard can put up 50 and 150 on any given season, and is almost a sure thing to put up 40 and 140. Those guys did not come close to that. Also, Howard just keeps getting better, he may not have even reached his full potential yet. So I do not think it’s fair to compare Howard to those other guys just because of body type. Howard is a special kind of player and I think he will produce throughout the duration of this new contract.

  9. BC - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:40 PM

    Fielder put up 50 and 150 one year. Also the last guy to lead the league in RBI for 3 straight years. Though Howard seems to be in better shape. The only shape Fielder was ever in was round.

  10. Nick C - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:41 PM

    This deal is nuts. Howard did not belong in the top-5 in the MVP voting in ANY of the years he ended up there.
    As a Cards fan this deal is awful too. Pujols is twice the player that Howard is and now the Phillies terrible overpayment has just raised Pujols’ salary floor.

  11. MikeZ - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:48 PM

    Howard is the fastest man ever to 200 home runs, yes that includes names like Ruth, Bonds and A-Rod. That speaks volumes, and lots of zeros on the paycheck.
    He is in the best shape of his major league career. And with his power he could be ripping balls over the wall when he is 40. Looks like the Phils just locked up another one of the best players at their position in their prime.

  12. Curious George - Apr 26, 2010 at 3:58 PM

    And with his power he could be ripping balls over the wall when he is 40.

    I’m sure there were many Red Sox fans saying the same thing about David Ortiz back when he signed his extension. Now, at age 34, Ortiz could well be done. Howard is 4 years younger and his contract takes him all the way out to age 36. He could well be the exception, but big men just simply do not age terribly well and to needlessly count on it is a foolhardy risk.

  13. SteveK - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    It’s a gr8 deal for Howard, but not for the team. His skills will decline, as most do in 3-4 years and become an expensive liability, especially given he can’t hit lefties.
    If they had that kind of money, why didn’t they sign Cliff Lee?

  14. what? - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:03 PM

    ummm…who is Craig Calcaterra??? and what in the hell do you have credibility in working for NBC Sports? Figure Skating and Hockey….this article is so not credible.

  15. Joe - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:06 PM

    “Chase Utley miss(es) large chunks of time yearly”
    ?
    Since 2006, he’s missed 2, 30, 3, 6 and 0 (so far) games. That’s not really a JD Drew-type of record.
    (MikeZ): “Howard is the fastest man ever to 200 home runs”
    In terms of Games Played, yes. In terms of AGE, seven players had 200+ homers at age 25. Howard had 24 homers at age 25. He’s old for a guy in his seventh year, which is the real problem with this extension.

  16. Evan - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:06 PM

    Craig, I agree with you in that I think Ryan Howard’s baseball skills aren’t worth his contract. That said, baseball is more than just a sport and I wonder how many jersey’s he sells and/or how much his “image” is worth.
    .
    I think if you take into acccount the business angle and the fact that Sluggers are typically the most popular players in the game, he might be worth what they’re paying him.

  17. PiotrK - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:07 PM

    That’s the list of comparable players? He’s the fastest all time to 100 homers, fastest all time to 200 homers, and the fastest all time to hit as many homers in the # of At Bats he’s had. ALL TIME. He came up late through the minors so he has less “miles” on him than other players his age. He’s a keystone of the team’s chemistry, and a huge money maker for the team in both ticket sales and high-profit margin clothes. The numbers prove not that there is no player better, but no player “Comparable.” This is a good deal. They’ll let Werth go after the season, collect their 2 sandwich picks and bring up the high ceiling top prospect Brown for pennies.

  18. MikeZ - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:14 PM

    Take a look at a picture of Ortiz in a Twins uniform next to him in a BoSox uni. The PED’s make him fat? Or the lack of PED’s make him suck?
    Howard is going the other way when it comes to weight yet his power remains the same. He really isn’t a “big man” anymore like a Cecil Fielder. Those sweet onion chicken teriyaki’s from subway have done a body good.

  19. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:14 PM

    He has not played fewer than 144 games, on a team where Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley miss large chunks of time yearly.

    Assuming ’06 is when Howard became a FT player, total games played each year starting in ’06:
    Utley – 160, 132, 159, 156
    Howard – 159, 144, 162, 160
    That’s 18 more games, or about 4.5 per year different. Now let’s look at WAR for those 4 years:
    Utley – 6.8, 7.7, 8.1, 7.6
    Howard – 6.8, 4.2, 3.3, 4.9
    Utley is a lot more valuable, and grossly underrated considering the MVP voting.

  20. Chris - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:19 PM

    He leads the Phillies in every historical walk category so I’m not sure about this walk business. He’s delivered a championship already. In this era I don’t think the Phillies have been known for making too many dumb moves. Maybe they know something we don’t, like it’s good to anchor down reasons for people to want to play ball in Philly. His stats speak for themselves and he’s not lazy, and he’s no Pat Burrell.

  21. madhatters - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:20 PM

    In the past three years Howard’s power numbers compare to only one man in history. George Herman Ruth. Ryan Howard in the past three years has gotten better and better defensively. He wasn’t “bad” last year and he is better this year. Did you watch the Braves v. Phils series? Honestly Craig how can you say he’s bad? What would that make Chase Utley?
    And as to the final point about Pujols. I’m pretty sure that is why Ruben Amaro signed him now so Howard couldn’t point to Pujols deal and say well he got this much so… Always set the trend rather than fall victim to it
    It is a good deal of money but for a guy who has hit 40hrs and 140rbi’s the past three seasons (THE ONLY GUY TO DO SO). The fact that he hits near .350 and averages about 12.5 homers in August and September alone are reasons this is worthwhile to the Phillies. Look at Chase Utley’s numbers in August and September when he annually disappears and you’ll realize that Howard is absolutely essential to the Phillies succes

  22. Curious George - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:21 PM

    How many long term deals to guys in their 30s (especially one who will be 32 when it starts) go well? It’s natural for fans to think that their guy is different, that he will buck the traditional aging curve because he’s somehow special and unique. That’s fanboy wishcasting and not objective analysis.

  23. cathy - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:21 PM

    Glad to see the Phils extend his contract. He is one the best players ever and his numbers back this up!

  24. YANKEES1996 - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:22 PM

    This does not seem like a good decision for the Phillies, however it is their money to throw away. When you look at their roster I am not sure Howard is in the top 5 of their best players. Time will tell how good or bad this deal is, but I would have thought that there are other players on their team that they could have locked up that are better than Howard.

  25. madhatters - Apr 26, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    Are you really comparing a juicehead who’s most productive years were while he was mainlining ‘roids. To a natural 6’5 230lb player?
    Really?

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