What Are the Phillies Thinking?

When the news first broke and the details started to emerge, I was tempted to fill this entire article with just me laughing. My co-writers convinced me that while an appropriate response, that was not quite informative enough so I have relented and will actually map out the value of Ryan Howard’s new extension. I’m laughing pretty hard, though, in case you wanted to picture it.

Howard receives $20 million in 2012 (his age 32 season) and ’13, $25 million per from 2014 through ’16 and there is a team option on 2017 (his age 37 season) for $23 million that costs the Phillies $10 million to buy out. They even threw in a limited no trade clause.

The extension kicks in after Howard’s current 3-year, $54-million deal ends in 2011. I wrote about that deal back in February of 2009 when the Phillies avoided arbitration with him by signing it. I was not a fan of the deal at the time but pointed out the Phillies were bound by the arbitration process and the way it tends to overvalue the skills that Howard had in excess and marginalize the skills that he lacked. There is no such rationalization here as this new deal covers only free agent years.

Howard did well in 2009, besting projections by about a win. That made him a solid bet to produce the amount of value needed to match his salary from 2009-11. Projecting Howard’s performance from 2012-7 is incredibly difficult. We’re not only looking very far into the future, but we’re doing so with a hitting profile that historically ages awfully. Richie Sexson, Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaugn, David Ortiz, Tony Clark and others are among Ryan Howard’s most comparable hitters according to Baseball-Reference. All of them dropped off harshly in their early 30s. About the only success story in Howard’s top ten comparables in Willie McCovey.

Even if you think baseball’s salary per win goes up to $4.25 million this coming offseason and rises at a 5% clip every winter through 2017, Howard will need to produce an average of 4.75 wins from 2012 through 2017 just in order to justify his salary. If you factor in that Howard gets (even more) long-term security from this deal, then that average production levels goes up to 5.3 wins.

In other words, Howard will need six seasons that were better than his 2009 season, except over his 32-37 years. I’m not sure I would lay even money on him achieving even half of that. This contract is both incredibly risky and unnecessary since Howard was already signed through 2011. Say hello to baseball’s newest worst contract.

We hoped you liked reading What Are the Phillies Thinking? by Matthew Carruth!

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

newest oldest most voted
Larry Smith Jr.
Guest

My first question was: So the Phillies couldn’t come up with $9m to keep Cliff Lee this year, but they found $22m to pay Ryan Howard in 2012 and $25m to pay him later on? I understand that there’s a different budget in place for 2010 than there is in 2012 and that it isn’t quite apples to apples……but come on.

Dave
Guest
Dave

For the last time… The Lee deal was not about money but about replenishing the farm system. If it was about money, they would have just dumped Blanton for peanuts.

Kevin S.
Guest
Kevin S.

If it was about replenishing the farm system, they should have gotten a better haul.

MG
Guest
MG

It was also about money and exceeding a payroll threshold that would limit their operating income this year. Ridiculous to think otherwise.

mattymatty
Guest

If its the last time I hear that dumb line then great. It’ll be the last time I have to call it a dumb argument. Why replenish the farm system when you have a core of guys who are all around the same age? Also, if Lee left you were going to get two first round draft picks for him?

Kirkwood
Member
Kirkwood

The Phillies could have gotten better prospects with the 2 high draft picks they would have gotten from Lee. They didn’t want to pay him AND Roy Halladay while only having Lee for 1 year.

Dave
Guest
Dave

The 2 compensation picks would have amounted to about 1/3 of the trade value they got back from the Mariners, nice try. Again… Blanton is making nearly the same as Lee this year, they would have dumped him instead in a heartbeat if it was about the money.

I do agree that they should have gotten a better haul, but for some reason the mlb teams do not see Lee as a top 10 MLB pitcher… Hence why the Phillies also got him for a cheap haul

Tom B
Guest
Tom B

Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont and Juan Ramirez.

I’d take 2 sandwich picks over… whoever those guys are to keep one of the best pitchers in baseball on my team for a shot at a world series.

scatterbrian
Guest
scatterbrian

…and they could have used Howard rather than Lee to replenish the system.

Kampfer
Guest
Kampfer

this is ridiculous… prospects are meant to help the MAJOR league club to WIN championship. The fact is, with BOTH aces, Phillies is like an unstoppable championship winning machine for two more years. Do the prospects they get in return even have the possibility to do the same? Not really… by the time they establish themselves, more likely than not the scary core of talent is already old or gone.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B

“Unstoppable championship winning machine” huh? The Yankees would like a word with you. And Red Sox, Rays, Cards, Dodgers, and…and…

(Sure they would have been favorites to take the NL pennant, but you overstate your case just a “*tad*. Unless by “unstoppable” you mean a 15 – 30% chance of winning the W.S.)

FormerChildModel
Member
Member
FormerChildModel

In Dave’s defense, Amaro is on record as saying that it was about replenishing their farm system. Either way, there is no good argument to the deal that was made.

Brad Johnson
Member

You know Fangraphs has gone mainstream when the guy making the dumb comment about Lee has a +36 and the guy rightly correcting him has a -23.

Larry Smith Jr.
Guest

Legit windows to win the World Series are very, very small. In particular, the Phillies core is beginning to age. As a Tiger fan who witnessed first hand the result of keeping a championship caliber team together too long with absolutely no focus on the farm system (I like to call this period of time: “1993-2005”), I’m well aware of the necessity of maintaining the farm.

However, even with all the deals they’ve made, they still were able to retain their top prospect, Dominic Brown. They almost certainly would’ve gotten two first round picks for Lee. Whether or not those picks would’ve been equal to Gillies, Aumont, and Ramirez isn’t really relevant to my line of thinking……it still is two high end draft picks in addition to your own pick. My point is that this is not a team on the decline, although they are closer to the end of their run than the beginning. This is a team with a serious World Series window and an opportunity to run out a rotation with both Halladay *AND* Lee. When you’re a good-but-not-great team maybe you can pass on that. When you’re possibly the favorite in your league, you don’t. Not in my World.

Claiming the need to rebuild the farm system is very weak, to me. The purpose of the farm system is to stock the major league roster with players to help you win a championship. When you’re already at a point where you’re positioned well to win the championship, you keep the party going. That doesn’t mean you ignore the farm system, but it *does* mean that you don’t go trading one of your best players simply because the farm system is “depleted”. Even though you still kept your most highly regarded prospect even while “depleting” the system.

If you trust your scouts, you trust them to identify players in the draft to help keep you on top. The two picks they would’ve gotten for Lee, even if I’m to accept the premise that they’re not as valuable as the prospects the Phillies received, still would’ve had value and would’ve replenished the system with two high value bodies (if you trust the scouts to identify the right guys). When a title is potentially on the line, I don’t get it. If the Phillies go out and win a title this year without Lee, then I’ll gladly admit I was wrong. If they don’t, then Amaro did his fanbase a disservice by not fielding the best possible team he could.

Gina
Guest
Gina

I can understand all that, but Howards under contract for 2 more years, I believe I could be wrong on that. Unless they’re expecting their window to be 3-4 more years I don’t see how that justifies this contract.

Gina
Guest
Gina

Wait never mind, replied to the wrong person.

Nate
Guest
Nate

Lee deal would’ve meant money from THIS year. Howard’s deal doesn’t affect money until the 2012 season. So, yes, they couldn’t come up with the 9 million for Lee this year.

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.

Yes, they could have. Even if they non-tendered Blanton and didn’t get a thing for him, Lee + two picks > Blanton + three middling prospects.