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Ryan Howard Cashes In

It was announced today that the Phillies just extended 1Bman Ryan Howard for five years and $125 million.  The extension starts in 2012, the year Howard turns 32, which means that the Phillies are locking themselves in for five years at the highest salary at the age when a player Howard’s size is almost certainly going to decline.

On the one hand, I’m glad for Howard because he certainly has been a great player the last four years, and he was due for a break after having had to spend an extra season or so in the minors when the Phils had Jim Thome as their 1Bman.  This contract more than evens out any earlier unfairness.

For the Phillies, there is just no way that this is a wise gamble.  Even if Howard does not slow down as a hitter, he’s going to have more injuries once he’s 32 and up.  The entire weight of baseball history says that men his size don’t age well.

The Phillies would have been better served to wait until 2011 to make this contract offer.  In fact, if they had waited until after the 2011 season, once Howard actually hit the free agent market, it’s extremely doubtful that anyone would have topped a five year $125 million offer, given his age and a national economy that is likely to take another couple of years to really get rolling again.

How much the Phillies end up regretting this contract remains to be seen.  However, the odds are probably 9-to-1 that they’ll end up regretting it before it’s run its course.

What impact with this signing have on the likes of Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez, all of whom will become free agents after the 2011 season, barring extensions?  It’s certainly going to help Pujols, but I’m less certain about Fielder or Gonzalez.

The big factor is how many rich teams are left to commit to high-priced 1Bmen.  Pujols almost certainly re-signs with the Cardinals for some record-setting number, unless the Cards start losing and discover that they really can’t afford to pay Pujols his current value after foolishly throwing all that extra money at Matt Holliday last off-season.

The Red Sox have David Ortiz’s contract coming off the books after this season (assuming they do not exercise a $12.5 million team option for 2011), so they could be players for Fielder or Gonzalez.  The Yankees and Angels are presumably out of the running, since they’ve got Mark Teixeira and Kendry Morales respectively.  The Yankees, given their resources, are always a possibility to sign another slugger, but carrying two $20+ million per season 1Bmen seems unlikely even for the Yankees.

The Mets just called up Ike Davis, so unless they give up on him fast (if that’s going to happen anywhere it’s New York), they don’t need a more expensive 1Bman for at least the next few seasons.

Derrek Lee’s and Paul Konerko’s contracts expire after this season so either of the Chicago teams might be interested.  However, if either has a good year this year, their current teams will likely resign them to shorter term, lower annual salary contracts than either Fielder or Gonzalez will command.

The Dodgers could certainly be in play if James Loney doesn’t finally have a break-out season and the McCourts work out their divorce issues.  The Braves also look like they need an upgrade at first.

That’s pretty much it for the big-market teams.  You have to figure that one or two of the rest will surprise everyone and make a run at Fielder or Gonzalez, but I doubt that it will be more than one or two in this economy.

If both Fielder and Gonzalez are available during the 2011-2012 off-season, my guess is that whoever of the two is more desired will get a substantially larger contract than the other, because there won’t be a lot of high-flying bidders after the first big sign.


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