What Are the Phillies Thinking?

When the news first broke and the details started to emerge, I was tempted to fill this entire article with just me laughing. My co-writers convinced me that while an appropriate response, that was not quite informative enough so I have relented and will actually map out the value of Ryan Howard’s new extension. I’m laughing pretty hard, though, in case you wanted to picture it.

Howard receives $20 million in 2012 (his age 32 season) and ’13, $25 million per from 2014 through ’16 and there is a team option on 2017 (his age 37 season) for $23 million that costs the Phillies $10 million to buy out. They even threw in a limited no trade clause.

The extension kicks in after Howard’s current 3-year, $54-million deal ends in 2011. I wrote about that deal back in February of 2009 when the Phillies avoided arbitration with him by signing it. I was not a fan of the deal at the time but pointed out the Phillies were bound by the arbitration process and the way it tends to overvalue the skills that Howard had in excess and marginalize the skills that he lacked. There is no such rationalization here as this new deal covers only free agent years.

Howard did well in 2009, besting projections by about a win. That made him a solid bet to produce the amount of value needed to match his salary from 2009-11. Projecting Howard’s performance from 2012-7 is incredibly difficult. We’re not only looking very far into the future, but we’re doing so with a hitting profile that historically ages awfully. Richie Sexson, Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaugn, David Ortiz, Tony Clark and others are among Ryan Howard’s most comparable hitters according to Baseball-Reference. All of them dropped off harshly in their early 30s. About the only success story in Howard’s top ten comparables in Willie McCovey.

Even if you think baseball’s salary per win goes up to $4.25 million this coming offseason and rises at a 5% clip every winter through 2017, Howard will need to produce an average of 4.75 wins from 2012 through 2017 just in order to justify his salary. If you factor in that Howard gets (even more) long-term security from this deal, then that average production levels goes up to 5.3 wins.

In other words, Howard will need six seasons that were better than his 2009 season, except over his 32-37 years. I’m not sure I would lay even money on him achieving even half of that. This contract is both incredibly risky and unnecessary since Howard was already signed through 2011. Say hello to baseball’s newest worst contract.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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