Howard's Contract

In case you missed it earlier today, the Phillies have given Ryan Howard a five year contract extension that is worth $125m if the club buys out his final year or $138m if the club picks up the final year in 2017.  I am sure  sometime today, you will read a story lauding the Phillies for retaining their home-grown talent and that the Rays should be doing more of this with players like Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. If you read something like that, please take that newspaper and lay it down in the bottom of your birdcage. Ryan Howard has earned his future annual salary just once in his entire career and he will never earn what he will be paid from 2012-2016.

2006 and 2009 are the only two seasons in his career that Howard has come close to meeting his new annual salary and now the Phillies are giving him that rate from 2012-2016 and possibly 2017 while he is in his mid 30’s – an age that has historically been horrible for 1st baseman that were not named Willie McCovey. That’s the rub with free agency – most of the time you are paying a guy for what he has done rather than what he will do and that will certainly be the case for the team that gives Carl Crawford his next long-term deal or who gives Pena a long-term deal.

I feel Crawford is going to get roughly $17m-$18m a year on his new contract that will not be coming from this franchise. In fact, if he signs a new deal here I will shave my head bald and post the video of it on this blog as proof.  Early on in his career, a majority of Crawford’s value was in his glove such as in 2004 when his glove was worth nearly three times what his bat was according to Fangraphs.com. 2008 was even more extreme as his bat was a negative value but 2009 was a more complete season as he was worth $24.9m – still less than what Howard will be making at the peak of his deal. Over the past six seasons, he has averaged $14.8m of open market value a season but his new contract will likely pay him $3m more than that per season when he might only earn that in the first half of that contract. He will be 29 when he signs his new deal putting him on the downside of his peak statistical years that end at age 31.

Carlos Pena has seen his overall value decline each of the last seasons. His magical 2007 season was worth $25.4m while the 2008 follow-up was just $17.5m and the injury-shortened 2009 season. At age 32, it is unlikely that his value will increase much, if any, moving forward in his career. Ryan Howard’s new contract affects Pena moving forward because Howard’s contract now likely nukes any chance of Prince Fielder returning to Milwaukee which puts the Brewers on the market for a cheaper alternative at first base to replace Fielder. St. Louis also just saw the bar raised for Albert Pujols and his next contract because the conversation will now start at $25m per year and could very well get up to $30m per year – something unfathomable just five years ago. Think back to your reaction when the Rangers gave Alex Rodriguez his first $25m/yr deal; I though my friend was lying to me when he called me with the news. Joe Mauer just got a deal that will pay him $23m at the peak of the deal and now Pujols may dwarf that deal less than a year later. What all of this means is that if Pujols or Fielder depart, that puts more open market competition out there for the Rays which understandably diminishes the chances of Pena signing another contract with the Rays.  Pena would be in the driver’s seat in the open market because the first base class includes older players such as Lance Berkman (if Astros decline final option), Derrrek Lee,  and Paul Konerko.  While I love the guy and hope he stays another few seasons, he would be foolish not to entertain open market offers now that the last two first baseman to get deals have received $23m and $25m respectively. Even if Pena were to only get half of the average of those two deals, it is still a $1.5m raise to what he is making now. Pena was worth 2.9 Wins Above Replacement in 2009; exactly half of what Teixeira was worth who made $23m last season so it would be safe to assume Pena’s next deal starts at that $12.5m per season level. Given the club has said payroll is coming down after this season, it would be surprising if the Rays were to pay Pena that much as it would equate to 20% of the team’s payroll into just one player.

We saw the Rays give Ben Zobrist a nice extension to his deal for a very reasonable amount of money earlier this week and we all have our fingers crossed that the club is able to do the same with B.J. Upton and Matt Garza here at some point. It does not matter that there is no noise about any talks happening because there was zero, and I mean zero, talk about Zobrist to get an extension right now. I maintain the quieter it gets with Rays-related front office news, the more likely something is to happen. If things stay quiet over the next few weeks, that’s a good thing.  Rather than hope the club pays Pena and Crawford more than they will earn in the coming years, you should hope the club is able to retain guys like Garza and Upton through their prime years as the club has already done with Longoria, Shields, and Zobrist because those contracts can easily be met by the players and that is the type of deals a budget-minded club like the Rays need to continue to sign to stay competitive. A long-term contract on experienced free agents are good to a point – usually the first half of that deal. Compare it to a long-term loan on a car; a 4 year deal on a car is bad enough because it loses value the moment you drive it off the lot. A 5 year deal is bad enough on paper but if you sign a 6 year deal on a car loan, you’ll be spending the last two years of that loan wishing you could get rid of the car and anxiously anticipating when you finally make that last payment that feels like wasted money.

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About Jason Collette

Writer/Analyst
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