The Phillies’ 2011 season ended with Ryan Howard crumpled in a heap between the batter’s box and first base. What was suspected then was confirmed later: Howard had suffered a rupture of his Achilles. Howard’s five-year, $125-million extension was to begin in 2012.
It just about goes without saying that Howard’s contract with the Phillies has been a disaster. It’s important to understand that most analysts predicted that the deal would be a problem for the organization. It’s just as important to understand that the deal has gone far worse than anyone could’ve thought. The most-wrong person here is Ruben Amaro, but in a way the skeptical analysts were also wrong, for not projecting a bad-enough outcome. That’s not entirely fair, but the point is that even the biggest cynics didn’t think what has happened with Howard would happen.
And here’s what’s happening: it’s 2014, and Howard’s deal has two more years left. According to Jon Heyman, the Phillies are trying hard to deal Howard away, expressing a willingness to eat a lot of the money. So far, of course, there have been no takers. Meanwhile, Ryne Sandberg is starting to sit Howard, trying to find room for Darin Ruf. Ruf, in Triple-A, has hit one home run. Contained within that piece is a note that the Phillies have internally discussed just dropping Howard from the roster, paying him, and moving on. His contract is a little more than halfway over. Said Amaro at the time of the extension agreement: “There’s always risk when you’re doing guaranteed deals, but based on what he’s done, I think it’s a good risk.”
The contract, for the Phillies, has been catastrophic. It hasn’t singlehandedly prevented them from competing, but no reasonable contract can do that to a team, and it’s certainly made the situation more difficult. Probably, it’s not the worst contract in the history of baseball, in terms of the difference between dollars paid and dollars worth. The one bit of good news is that Howard inked a five-year deal, whereas, say, Albert Pujols is under contract through 2021. So, at some point in the somewhat near future, Howard will be off the Phillies’ books. But Howard is well on his way to an ugly feat. One that seems almost inconceivable, but one that captures the reality of all that’s gone down.
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