News of Ryan Howard‘s extension has already generated a good deal of opinion and there have been pretty much two kinds of responses: people noting how insane the deal is and those trying desperately to justify it.
Put me in the group who thinks the former.
Craig Calcaterra does a good job of panning the deal here and if you’re looking for some Phillie fan justification, just look to the comments there. Same goes for Keith Law’s analysis (insider subscription required).
So here is the Phillies’ logic, as best I can guess: they already had Howard locked up for the next 2 seasons at $19 and $20 million respectively. As of this minute he is a bit overpaid – not terribly so, but a bit – and also has almost certainly already had his best seasons. So what do they do? Give him a raise. For the 5 and perhaps 6 years after next.
In making predictions before the season, I felt the Phillies were an overrated team and part of that is because of Howard. He is a very good player and he absolutely crushes right-handed pitching. But that is pretty much his only skill. He struggles against lefties. He is a mediocre defender. He is not particularly fast. He doesn’t have a body type that figures to age well. For a player with his skillset, he also doesn’t walk as much as he should.
I’ve read some comments where people call him a plus defender who is entering his prime and improving versus lefties, but that is simply not true. If you want to say he’s a decent defender at first, fine, I’ll cede the point. But it’s still just first base which has extremely limited defensive value. Despite Howard dropping some pounds in recent years, his best season came in 2006 and his OBP and SLG have trended downward, especially against lefties.
I find it baffling that the Phillies would be in such a rush to make Howard an offer like this – one that no team would match – 2 years before he was to become a free agent. Howard stands to be the 2nd highest paid player in baseball when his extension kicks in and he’s not a top-20 player right now. It’s really just another in a string of poor moves, along with the signings of Raul Ibanez and Placido Palanco. All 3 are situations where the Phillies unnecessarily paid a player much more than his market value.
Obviously, Howard is still a valuable player and overpaying for talent when you have the resources isn’t always the worst thing (just ask the Yankees about their deal for Alex Rodriguez). However, you have to wonder: if the Phillies had this kind of money to spend and they are competitive now, why didn’t they keep Cliff Lee in the offseason? Obviously the Phillies will still be a good team for the foreseeable future, but they could have been even better and figure to decline once these bad contracts start to catch up with them.