The Big Piece (of S$!%)
The second article of a three-part series on the Phillies by Nick, stats by Hank. Check out Part 1 here.
Now seems like a peculiar time to look back on the Ryan Howard contract.
Howard is in the midst of some kind of resurgence. He has hit .313 this month with 12 extra-base hits and has even walked 12 times in 23 games, all adding up to an outstanding .965 OPS.
Everyone seemed ready to declare Howard’s days as a productive player long gone. However, he might actually have something left.
That’s why I think this is the perfect time to reflect on Rubén Amaro’s biggest failure.
With three years and $75 million left on his deal (including a $10 million buyout for a fourth year), we find ourselves pleasantly surprised that Howard is contributing anything even though he will be paid like an elite player for three more seasons.
Howard signed his massive five-year, $125 million extension in April 2010. He still had almost two full seasons before he was due to hit free agency.
A drop of production should have been expected. Howard was already 30, and aside from a strong 2009, his OPS had fallen every season after his monster MVP campaign in 2006.
But following 2009, Howard’s OPS continued to fall. First it dropped from .931 to .859 in 2010, then to .835 in 2011, the last year of his prior contract.
Simply put, Howard was paid for what he did, not what he was going to do, a cardinal sin for a general manager.
Just look at the nifty chart Hank made. (Click image to enlarge)
Howard may be hitting well now, but make no mistake, he was paid to hit the long ball. Howard’s home run production had been declining for years, well before he signed this contract. Even at the time he signed it, it was easy to see this extension was a major mistake.
Amaro wanted to wrap up his slugging first baseman before Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder hit the open market and raised Howard’s price.
Pujols ended up getting 10 years for $240 million and Fielder received a nine-year, $214 million deal (averages of $24 million and $23.8 million, respectively).
Howard is the oldest of the three. He has about a year on Pujols and four years on Fielder.
Pujols, who had three MVPs and finished fifth in the voting before leaving St. Louis, would go to the Hall of Fame even if he never played after he left St. Louis.
Fielder was still in his prime and had comparable, perhaps even slightly more impressive numbers than Howard when he hit free agency.
Also worth noting, Howard is the worst fielder of the three.
Considering that Howard was declining before the extension kicked in, the deal was hasty and bloated. By the time his previous contract ended, Howard’s value was nowhere near what it was when he signed his extension.
Amaro was trying to get ahead of the game and misjudged the market. The contract looks worse than ever now.
Sure, his Achilles’ injury was a factor. He was $20 million in sunk costs last season, unthinkable for any team no matter its budget.
That said, his production has declined for years, and is continuing to do so.
If Howard somehow manages to maintain his current production, he is a solid first baseman and not the black hole in the lineup he appeared to be for the first month or so of the season.
A .272/.325/.475 slash line isn’t bad. In reality, he’s back on track for where his career was headed, with numbers in line with his down-trending career arc from years past, and the Phillies are fairly fortunate that his career hasn’t completely fallen apart like some sluggers of years past. Essentially, this should be what an optimist would expect from Howard for 2013 at the time he re-signed.
The problem is that, at $20 million this year and three years of $25 million to follow, Howard is paid as an elite hitter and, with the salary devoted to him, needs to be one for this team is succeed. That’s just not happening.