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Monday, April 26, 2010

Ryan Howard's $125 Million Extension

I love Ryan Howard, but. . .

He's not even the second-best first baseman in the National League (you'd have to give that nod to Prince Fielder).

He's going to be 36 at the end of this deal.

He's streaky and he's big, and the Baseball Prospectus gurus will tell you that big-bodied players don't last all that long. Then again, he's not going to turn into Bobby Bonilla (remember him?) or Mo Vaughn (hard to forget him, given his girth).

Still . . .

Here are a few things to think about:

1. Phillies' fans will be somewhat aghast, because, given the start of the season, with the bullpen's problems (the 2008 Brad Lidge can't get here fast enough) and the trade of Cliff Lee, the chorus will be: "Why Couldn't They Have Kept Cliff Lee?" That chorus will ring louder and louder, because, presumably, the Phillies argued that they didn't want to add $9 million to their payroll this year to keep Lee. This signing makes them look penny-wise and pound-foolish (no pun intended).

2. Phillies' ownership could counter "right back at ya," in that fans usually castigate the ownership for not spending the extra dollars to solidify the roster. It's hard to argue against ownership, given the big deals given to Roy Hallady and now Howard.

3. Chase Utley has to be next. He struck a team-friendly deal several years ago and now makes a measly $12 million a year, when, arguably, he's the team's most valuable position player, their only future Hall of Famer, and the best player on the team. It appears that he went easy on the Phillies previously, but you have to believe that he'll be out of here after 2013 if the Phillies don't do something. Expect that they'll do something.

4. The Phillies had a tough choice to make, and Howard had more leverage over them than they did over him. The reasons? First, can you say "Boston Red Sox," who will be desperate for a big bat sooner than 2010 but would have been waiting patiently for Howard after that? Second, Albert Pujols isn't leaving St. Louis. Third, with Jayson Werth's contract up after this season and Howard's up after 2011, the Phillies either had to commit to Werth now and risk Howard's walking or commit to Howard and let Werth walk. They couldn't have risked not doing anything with Howard before Werth became a free agent, or else Howard could have priced himself out of the market (see: Boston Red Sox, by this time desperate to keep up with Tampa Bay and New York) and the Phillies would have more holes in their lineup than they could possibly fill.

5. The Phillies will have some tough choices after 2011, but don't look for them to re-ink iffy Brad Lidge and aging Raul Ibanez. Look for them to use a bunch of money made free by the expiration of those contracts and Jamie Moyer's to re-ink Jimmy Rollins and find some other, younger players.

6. Is re-signing Werth out of the question? Probably, given that he'll command Jayson Bay-type money or better, and given that the Phillies will have committed eight figures a year to Howard, Hallady and Utley and will be paying Ibanez and Lidge eight figures apiece in 2011 as well. Remember, GM Ruben Amaro did say that not everyone can make $10 million a year (okay, perhaps in Yankee Stadium).

So, this will be the big news of the moment, as the Phillies continue to solidify their roster and build for the long term. Still, this signing is a risky one. As I said, I like Ryan Howard an awful lot, but the Phillies will need more consistent production from him for many years to make this contract pay off.

Phillies fans should be happy that ownership opened up its pocketbook. They will be even more disappointed, however, that they couldn't have found an additional (and relatively paltry) $9 million to have Cliff Lee as their #2 starter.


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