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Grading The Deal: Phillies Bring In Money Truck For Howard
Authored by Christopher Reina - 27th April, 2010 - 11:44 am

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Usually when people want news to be slipped through without notice, they release it on a Friday. The opposite is true for Mondays, which became "Ryan Howard will earn $25 million annually until he's more than old enough to become a presidential candidate Day".

This is extremely painful news for the Cardinals (Albert Pujols), Brewers (Prince Fielder) and Padres/Red Sox (Adrian Gonzalez). All three first basemen will be receiving new contracts in the immediate future and seeing Howard at an annual average of $25 million is outstanding news.

Howard's five-year extension is worth $125 million over five seasons and includes a team option for a sixth season with a buyout of $10 million.

The annual average is higher than the one that Joe Mauer signed in March just a few months short of becoming a free agent and also higher than Mark Teixeira's eight-year, $180 million contract signed on the open market about 16 months ago.

Considering Howard was already signed through 2011, isn't as much of an all-around player as those two and doesn't project to have the same kind of longevity, I cannot follow Ruben Amaro's logic on the timing and amount. Howard would have just turned 32 when becoming a free agent after the 2011 season and I don't foresee another team out there that would have offered him more money. The incentive for teams to do deals ahead of free agency is to save on the dollars end to give the player some security, but I don't see the 'take' from Philadelphia's perspective considering all the $125 million they will 'give.'

Which teams were the Phillies afraid would snatch Howard from them in free agency? The Yankees already have Teixeira, Boston will presumably have Gonzalez by then, which leaves the Mets unless a team like the Giants surprisingly entered the fray. The gamble of making Howard get an offer that approaches or surpasses $25 million annually from any other team would have been worth it for me. For the Twins, signing Mauer had significance that goes beyond the diamond, something that doesn't have translatable significance to the Phillies.

The counterargument from Philadelphia that I could understand is that they didn't want to let Howard have a deal for as much annual money that had more attached years to it, which would then have him earning $25 million until he reaches 40.

To be fair, Howard has been one of the game's most productive hitters in the game since hitting 22 homers in 2005 as a 25-year-old rookie. Amongst active hitters with at least 2000 plate appearances, Howard ranks 10th in OPS+ (1), slightly ahead of Fielder, Mauer, Gonzalez and Teixeira.

He also has hit more homers in his first six seasons than any other player besides Pujols. Between 2006 and 2009, Howard has hit 198 homers compared to 165 for Pujols, 158 for Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder and 154 for Alex Rodriguez.

Howard is largely a two outcome hitter, similar to Dunn, a slugger who found a tepid market for himself in free agency, eventually signing a two-year, $20 million contract with the Nationals. Howard strikes out in over 30% of his at bats and homers in 8.1% of them. Unlike Dunn, Howard doesn't walk very often and his OBP has gone from .425 in his 2006 MVP season down to .392 in 2007, .339 in 2008 and .360 in 2009.

The sample size is small this season, but his numbers have not been terribly impressive, hitting three homers and an OPS of .776 (.301/.475). While he has been striking out less, he hasn't been getting the same lift on the ball this season.

Howard's HR/FB rate topped out at 39.5% in 2006, but fell down to a more sustainable 31+% in 2007 and 2008 before dipping again to 25.4% in 2009. He is so singularly focused on hitting homers that it should never dip below 40, but he will need more and more big fly attempts to get there, which will keep his OBP down.

Also working against Howard

Howard has never been a horrible first baseman and he has improved his play there, but he has always looked like the kind of guy who was born to be an American League DH.

This really isn't an indictment on Howard as a player because he is one of the more valuable in the entire MLB. There are clearly far fewer pure homer hitters than there were 10 years ago, which puts him in a rare class. I simply feel that any player that is over the $20 million mark annually has to be incredibly special and to be $5 million beyond, he has to be insanely special. If Howard signed a six-year deal worth $120 million, it would have been fairer for both sides.

Tangentially, the Phillies will have even greater difficulty re-signing Jayson Werth, but that is where Domonic Brown was probably going to come in regardless.

Grade for Phillies: D+

It is a good day to be Casey Close and the future Mrs. Ryan Howard. If only Kelly Kapoor could trade her Ryan Howard for this one.

Grade for Ryan Howard: A


1.) OPS+ is crucial to look at in regards to Howard since Citizen's Bank is so advantageous for hitters. He is ranked seventh in regular OPS with the same parameters.