The last few years, the Phillies have wheeled and dealed themselves from obscurity to the pinnacle of baseball. They have landed superstars like Roy Halladay, Hunter Pence, Jonathan Papelbon, and even Cliff Lee, twice! However, during that time, they also gave Ryan Howard one of the worst contracts in team history.
It was April of 2010 when the Phils extended Howard’s contract for five years and $125 million. Howard was coming off three straight seasons of 45+ home runs and 136+ RBIs. So …what’s the problem? Here are the top five highest paid first basemen in baseball, according to average salary:
Howard sits atop the cash pile, but doesn’t hold a candle to any of those other superstars!
Albert Pujols is arguably the greatest player to ever grace the earth. Fielder is a perennial MVP, entering the prime of his career. Teixeira is a switch-hitting power threat with a slick glove. And Gonzalez is a sweet swinging lefty, with power to all fields. Howard is simply a defensive liability who strikes out in over a quarter of all his plate appearances in his eight-year career. If you consider Miguel Cabrera a first basemen and throw Joey Votto in the mix, Howard may fall to the 8th best first basemen in the bigs!
Anyway you slice it, Howard does not stack up to his counterparts, but commands the highest salary.
Fangraphs has a statistic called D$ that determines how much a player was “worth” for a particular season, based on their metrics and market value.
According to D$, Howard was “worth” $33.6m over the last three seasons. He actually made $54m. That is $20.4m that the Phillies paid Howard that he did not play up to on the field. For comparison over the same time period:
Gonzalez: D$= $78.3m Salary= $14.3m Net = +$64m
Pujols: D$= $93.2m Salary= $43.5m Net = +49.7m
Teixeira: D$= $55.3m Salary= $64.3m Net= -$9m
Fielder: D$= $66.9m Salary= $33.5m Net= +$33.4
As you can see, Howard and Teixeira are the only two that did not “outperform” their contracts. However, in the Teixeira case, there is something to be said for the Yankees consistently overpaying in contracts and the commodity of having a switch hitter at first, who’s turned his glove golden on four occasions.
By no means, am I bashing Ryan Howard or the Phillies management. However, this stat is rather telling: Over the next six seasons, Ryan Howard will make a MINIMUM of $125m while Albert Pujols will make a MAXIMUM of $126m. Who would you rather have for the next six years?
I believe the Phillies were trying to be proactive in locking up their slugging superstar before he reached free agency, but even after the two large offseason signings (Prince and Albert), Howard’s contract still reigns supreme. With The Big Piece ailing an Achilles injury and declining numbers, the Phillies might have liked a mulligan on this contract.