The Philadelphia Phillies knew what they were getting into on April 26, 2010, when they extended Ryan Howard’s contract through 2016, agreeing to pay their slugging first baseman $125 million for five years, plus the final two years of his three-year, $54 million contract in ’10 and ‘11. At least they should have known.
The contract all but locks the 31-year old Howard up in Philly for life. Howard has hit more home runs than any man to ever wear a Phillies uniform except Mike Schmidt, he’s won two home run titles, three RBI titles, an MVP award, a Rookie of the Year award, and a World Series ring.
From 2006-’09, Howard averaged 50 home runs and 143 RBIs per year, each by far the highest in the game during that span. He’s one of three men in history to hit at least 45 home runs with 135 RBIs for three straight seasons. And he’s the fastest ever to hit 100, 200, and 250 home runs in a career, so it’s only fitting that Howard is the richest man ever to play for the Phillies.
Except for the fact that Howard’s contract starts AFTER this year. So what he’s done in the past, as great as it is, is in the past. Howard will have to continue to produce for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. There’s even a $23 million team option for 2017, although of course it’s way too early to predict what the team will do there.
Howard is a big man, at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, and while he’s come down from the 275 he was playing at early in his career, big men historically don’t have long careers. Howard also endured by far the worst season of his career last year, as he saw a drop in his power numbers and suffered a nagging ankle injury.
Here are his numbers. The first row is his average total per season from 2006-’09 and the next row shows his numbers last year.
That has to be alarming for the Phillies’ management, especially after handing Howard the kind of contract extension they did. Howard’s home runs and RBI totals dropped significantly, and so did his on-base and slugging percentages, with his OPS dropping a full 100 points.
If you factor in the numbers Howard is on pace for this year, here is a new comparison.
Howard’s power numbers are a little better this year than last year, but his percentages are frightening. A slugging percentage of .482 for a $25 million first baseman? According to FanGraphs’ WAR totals, Howard ranks as the 16th best first baseman among 28 qualifiers. He’s 14th in OPS.
As much as the media has focused on Albert Pujols’ struggles this season, Howard has been worse. Pujols is hitting .278 with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs. Howard is at .248 with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs.
Much has been said about both Howard’s awful defense and the fact that he’s managed to improve it immensely over the years. Regardless, he’s rated as the 16th best defensive first baseman in the game and the worst base runner.
Howard is what he is. He’s an extremely dangerous hitter who the Phillies can pencil in as their cleanup hitter for the next half-decade. He’s also streaky, inconsistent, and probably at the point in which his best years are past him.
Is $25 million per year on average too much to pay for Howard? Probably. Almost certainly. Should the Phillies have played the free agency market? I don’t know if there were any offers out there. Derrek Lee or Carlos Pena for one year wouldn’t have made a difference.
Jonathan Singleton, the coveted prospect, is still just 19 years old and far too young to be considered near major-league ready. The team may have felt Howard was its best option, and if he helps get another title to the city of Philadelphia, that’s something you can’t put a price on.