The Ryan Howard contract: winners and losers

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Thumbnail image for howard.jpgAnytime something big like the Ryan Howard extension goes down the repercussions can be felt all throughout the Greater Baseballosphere.  The extension was announced scarcely an hour ago, but it’s probably worth tallying up the winners and losers of the deal:

Winners

Ryan Howard: Now that he has his extension, he will no longer have to make the crucial “should I go to law school or not” decision in 2012.

Casey Close, Howard’s agent: Given that it’s highly, highly unlikely that the Phillies came to Howard first on this — why would they? — Close has now been shown to have some serious moxie. If he went on the lecture circuit with a seminar about how to ask for and get crazy things salesmen and dateless men the world over would empty their wallets to hear it.

Albert Pujols: His asking price just went up to, what, $30 million?

Prince Fielder: His asking price just went up to, what, $27 million? He’s a lot younger than Howard, by the way.

Adrian Gonzalez: Ditto.

Subway: Their spokesman just got more famous.

The Mets, Braves, Nationals and Marlins: It’s one thing when the Yankees overspend. They can absorb it. There are consequences for every other team, however. Ask yourself: When Ryan Howard is struggling to be an average first baseman for $25 million a year — and when that $10 million buyout is looming! — how are the Phillies going to be able to afford the stout left field bat they’ll need to replace Raul Ibanez and make up for Howard’s offense? Multiply that problem across every position except second base — and even Chase Utley is going to decline eventually — and it’s easy to imagine the Phillies having a serious cash crunch in the next few years.  

Losers

The Cardinals, Brewers and whoever trades for Adrian Gonzalez: What possible leverage do John Mozeliak, Doug Melvin and, I dunno, Theo Epstein have now when they sit down with Pujols, Fielder and Gonzalez?

Everyone owner in baseball not named Bill Giles: The A-Rod contract was a major problem for the owners when the Collective Bargaining Agreement was being negotiated in 2002. After all, if a team could afford to pay a player $25 million year less than eighteen months previously, how could the owners’ claims that baseball was broke and the union needed to make concessions hold any water?  This time around — after the 2011 season — the negotiations aren’t supposed to be nearly so contentious. But money is always an issue and the owners always have an incentive to cry at least a little poor.  It’s one thing to give giant money to a young face-of-the-franchise guy like Joe Mauer, but this kind of money to maybe the third or fourth best first baseman in baseball? Eeek.  No matter what you think of it, the contract certainly undercuts any claims by the Phillies, and maybe by baseball as a whole, that it has any financial problems.

Phillies fans after 2012:  Look, I know you love Ryan Howard and I know you’d cry big tears if he were to leave when his previous deal expired. But Howard’s contract is going to be an albatross before it’s halfway over. And no one will trade for him, even if he did waive the no-trade clause, because such a beast is superfluous at $25 million a year.  Much harder than watching your big slugger leave town? Watching your big slugger leave town three years too late.

Am I leaving anyone out?

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.