Ryan Howard is an excellent baseball player. Phillies fans should be thrilled that he will be with the club long term. Howard has led the league in RBI in three of the last four years. He plays huge in September, as well as being a fan favorite and one of the top home run hitters in the game.
However, giving a 5-year, $125 million contract to Ryan Howard may not work out for the Phillies.
Howard is average at best with the glove. He works hard at it but by the end of this deal, he will certainly be a below average defensive first baseman.
Many think that a first baseman's defensive performance really does not matter that much. The Phillies must be among that group as Howard's range will be worse each year. On the plus side, Howard is a good receiver with good hands. He makes the plays on balls hit right at him.
Howard strikes out twice as often as he walks. This ratio will get worse. Aside from the double play, a strikeout is the worst possible outcome in a plate appearance.
A guy that can strike out in roughly two of seven plate appearances is not an elite player. As his power numbers decline even more, his huge strikeout numbers will be a liability.
Howard has always struggled against lefties. Check out his career numbers against left handed pitchers: .225/.308/.442. Ouch.
Howard's walk rate is going in the wrong direction. He might draw less than 60 walks this year. Howard's OBP two years ago was .339. Last year it was .360. This year it's .308. His huge power numbers help but not for this kind of dough.
Howard is 30. Many a power hitter has seen his stats fall off as he gets into his 30s. Check out David Ortiz or Cecil Fielder for reference. Howard could be unique and find a way to keep his production up as he ages but it isn't likely. In the National League, he won't be able to hide at designated hitter either.
Good hitting first baseman are not exactly rare. Take a look at the 2009 season where 13 first basemen topped .900 OPS. Furthermore, as these guys become available in the coming years, the Yankees will not likely be in on the bidding. Paying a first baseman $25 million to produce a .900 OPS is unwise, to say the least.
This contract has huge risk written all over it. What did the Phillies gain by committing this much money now? Were they afraid that in 2012 there would be a big demand for a one-dimensional power hitting first baseman in his early 30s? A less risky approach would have been to wait and see what kind of player Howard is going to be at 32 before throwing this kind of money at him.
In taking on this risk, one would think that the Phillies would get a discount, but that does not appear to be the case.
Signing Howard is not an efficient use of the team's resources. They would have been better off keeping Cliff Lee. An ace pitcher has more value than an All-Star first baseman. Every team has a revenue limit. Paying Howard this much money restricts the money they can pay to other players.