The Phillies will regret the Ryan Howard extension

52 Comments

howardryan.jpgRyan Howard is making $19 million this year and will get $20M in 2011.  Now, courtesy of the extension he just signed, he’ll make $20 million in 2012 and 2013 as well, and $25M per year for 2014, 2015 and 2016. There’s a team option for 2017 at $23M with $10M buyout. He also gets a limited no-trade guarantee, the parameters of which are not yet known.

This is madness.

Don’t get me wrong: I like Ryan Howard. You like Ryan Howard. We all like Ryan Howard. He’s a great player. He’s already been an integral part of one World Series championship team and another pennant winning team. He hits the ball a long way. He’s worked hard to improve both his conditioning and his defense. He’s, by all accounts, everything you want in a player when it comes to demeanor, leadership, maturity, etc.

But he’s also — at best — the third most valuable player on the Phillies, and reasonable arguments can be made that he’s not even that high. He’s big and he’s slow and despite that extra work he’s put in, it’s more likely than not that he’s going to age poorly.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of Ryan Howard’s most comparable players through age 29 — his age for the 2009 season — according to Baseball-Reference.com: Richie Sexson, Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, Willie McCovey, David Ortiz, Tony Clark, Mark McGwire, Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff and Norm Cash.  The only two guys on that list who didn’t fall off a cliff before age 36 are McCovey and McGriff, and they were a heck of lot skinnier than even Ryan Howard v.2.0 is. The rest of those names should constitute nightmare fuel for Phillies fans.

But the thing is, Howard doesn’t even have to fall off a cliff in the next five years for this deal to be bad. It’s bad on day one. Why? Because while we all like Ryan Howard, he’s not as good as many like to think he is.  Lefties are kryptonite to him.  He doesn’t walk nearly as much as a slugger like him should. While he’s better than he was on defense, he’s still bad and, before this contract was signed, seems like a guy who was on the DH-express.

As of now, Ryan Howard is going to paid more than anyone in the game not named Alex Rodriguez. Unless you can tell me that you can’t think of anyone else in baseball not named Alex Rodriguez who is better than Ryan Howard, this contract makes no sense. And if you tell me that, you make no sense.

In other news: Albert Pujols: call your agent. Your asking price just went up by $10 million.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
18 Comments

On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.