, St. Louis native and current-hated first baseman for the always-hated Philadelphia Phillies
, just signed himself a capital 'E' Enormous contract extension with said Phillies
Howard's new deal (not to be confused with the New Deal, which was a works project during the Depression that cost slightly less than half what Howard will be making), is set to begin in 2012, the year after his current contract expires. He will make $20 million annually in both 2012 and '13, $25 million each season from 2014-2016, and $23 million in 2017, his age 37 season. There's a $10 million buyout for that final season. That's right, you heard me; the Phillies will have to pay Ryan Howard ten million dollars just to go away.
A quick message to any and all major league teams: I will go away for half that. Seriously. I know, I know, it seems like almost too good a deal to be true, but I assure you I am on the level. Five mil and I'm gone. Poof. Call me Mr. Ghost. Three mil and I won't call for a month. That is bargain basement pricing on walking away. I'll keep my cell on.
First off, I have to say this looks like just an awful deal to me. Don't get me wrong; Ryan Howard is a very good hitter. One of the better hitters in the game, in fact. Unfortunately, as good as he is, his overratedness far, far outpaces his actual production, leading in large part to the contract we see before us.
For instance, Ryan Howard is not even close to being as good as the man who stands just a bit to his right, Chase Utley. Utley is a premium defender at a premium position who hits like a first baseman. Howard's best season came in 2006, when he stole Albert Pujols' MVP trophy. He was worth 6.8 wins above replacement that season -- which is by no means anything to sneeze at. Until, of course, you look at Utley, whose worst season since 2005 just happened to be '06, when he was worth -- yep, you guessed it -- 6.8 WAR. Score one for absurdly perfect symmetry.
Now, I don't mean to hammer on Howard here, but he just isn't one of the, say, top five players in all of baseball. Not even close. He's good, occasionally better than good, but not elite. He plays a defensively limited position in a limited way, and his body type rarely ages well. By age 37 I think that $10 million buyout is a whole lot more likely scenario than the $23 million option.
The other question, the one running incessantly through the minds of Cardinal fans, is, "What does this contract mean for Albert's next deal?" Well, I'm afraid I have some bad news there.
Remember when I said Howard was worth 6.8 wins in 2006, when he stole Albert's MVP? Well, Albert was worth 8.1 wins that year. He's only been worth less than 8 wins once since 2003. Let's put it just in simple, numerical terms: Ryan Howard came into the league in 2004, and since then has been worth a total of 22.0 WAR. In that same time frame, Albert Pujols has been worth 51.1 WAR. So, if you wanted to extrapolate based just on the numbers, if Ryan Howard and his 22 wins are worth $125 million, then Albert and his 51 wins are worth roughly $290 million over the same five years.
Of course, I'm just playing around with numbers when I say that; the Alex Rodriguez deal is still the gold standard for albatross contracts in baseball, and I think Albert's will have a whole lot more to do with A-Rod's deal than with the one Howard just signed. What this contract for Ryan Howard really proves, though, is that the same sort of insanity which possessed Tom Hicks when he signed Rodriguez to that landmark $250 million deal back in 2000 is alive and well today in baseball. We've seen tons of players forced to take below-market deals the past couple seasons; in fact, the Cardinals have been the beneficiaries in a couple instances. But the top-end players (or even the players just thought to be top-end), still somehow manage to find someone willing to shell out a ridiculous, franchise-crippling contract for their services.