The Phillies, out of the blue, today announced a five-year, $125-million extension for first baseman Ryan Howard.
Howard is already signed through 2011, and would have been eligible for free agency after that ’11 season. The new deal kicks in for 2012 and takes him through 2016 (with a $23 million club option for 2017, that has a $10 million buyout). Howard will earn $20 million in 2012 and ’13, and $25 million in 2014, ’15, and ’16. That’s $115 million worth of new salary, with the $10 million buyout bringing the guaranteed money to $125 million.
Already, many analysts are chiming in to say the Phillies are nuts, that Howard, who is playing this year at age 30, is not worth that kind of money, and certainly won’t be when he reaches his mid-30s.
I tend to agree that the Phillies will eventually rue the day they guaranteed Ryan Howard $25 million at age 35, yet I also understand the motivation, when you have a tremendous player on a championship-caliber team, to keep him happy, and to keep him on board. The Philies have a great thing going right now; the case has been made, convincingly, that this is the golden era in the franchise’s long history. They’re packing in the fans, and they smell another championship (they’ve won a grand total of two World Series crowns in 127 years). If they want to overpay to remove the Ryan Howard uncertainty from the equation, it’s hard to find too much fault with that.
The big question I have, and obviously I’m not alone, is what are the ramifications for Albert Pujols? El Hombre is in the final year of his contract with St. Louis, though the Cardinals own an option for 2011 at $16 million; I’ll go out on a limb and say that it will absolutely be exercised, barring a catostrophic injury, or a contract extension that supersedes the option.
Pujols is two months younger than Howard, and a demonstrably superior player — the game’s pre-eminent player, most would agree. According to Derrick Goold’s blog today in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak have both said that Pujols’ next deal — and keeping him a lifelong Cardinal is the goal, executives say — will take the club ‘to places it hasn’t gone before.’ ”
Goold adds that Pujols “figures to zoom by” Howard, and who would disagree? Unlike Howard, Pujols is the absolute face of one of the game’s most successful franchises, both on the field and at the box office. Letting him walk, or even letting him reach free agency, is simply unthinkable for the Cardinals. It’s not hard to imagine Pujols becoming the second player, after Alex Rodriguez, to sign a nine-figure deal in which the first number is a “2,” and which averages $30 million a year.
Prince Fielder, who turns 26 on May 9, is another first baseman who has to be smiling over Howard’s deal. Fielder is eligible for free agency after this season (he’s making $10.5 million in 2010), and has statistics comparable, if not superior to, Howard.
And then there’s Adrian Gonzalez, the world most underpaid player (by baseball standards, that is; by real world standards, he’s unimaginably wealthy). Gonzalez is making $4.75 million this year, and $5.5 million next year. He turns 28 on May 8, the day before Fielder turns 26; he’s putting up numbers that belong in the Fielder/Howard stratosphere. If the Padres eventually put Gonzalez on the trade block — and the way they’re playing right now, that’s no sure thing — the acquring team will now have to dig even deeper if they want to lock him up to a long-term deal.
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