Ah, the subject that just keeps on giving. From Jim McCormick (via Philadelphia Sports Daily):
Ryan Howard enjoys the highest A.A.V. of any first basemen in baseball.
The acronym stands for annual average value. Howard is set to make $25 million starting next season, and for the next five seasons. Albert Pujols might change this reality, but for now, "The Big Piece" has the biggest pact.
Those figures aren't exactly right, but they're close enough to get us started. And here's an exceptionally important fact to keep in the front of your mind, every time Howard's contract comes up ... Said contract doesn't actually begin until next year.
Granted, Howard's not exactly hurting for cash this season, in which he's paid $20 million in the last year of a three-year extension. And he actually makes "only" $20 million in both 2012 and '13, then $25 million annually from 2014 through '16. And the deal is counted as $125 million because of a 2017 option: $10 million buyout or $23 million salary. Considering the relatively small difference between the buyout and the salary, in the absence of a serious injury, a performance meltdown or a contract restructuring, Howard's going to wind up earning $138 million over six years. Which works out to $23 million per season.
Which seems like a lot, no?
Yeah. According to FanGraphs, Howard has been -- considering hitting, fielding, and baserunning -- worth $13 million per season over the last three seasons (including prorated 2011). There is, as you might have surmised already, a significant difference between $23 million and $13 million.
Here's another way to look at this ... Howard is among MLB's highest-paid first basemen. Mark Teixeira makes slightly more than Howard, and Miguel Cabrera makes the same. According to FanGraphs, Cabrera has been this season's third-best first baseman (behind Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder), Texeira the fifth-best (behind Joey Votto).
Ryan Howard? Eighteenth best. Seriously.
Is there any way to defend Howard's contract? My friend Jonah Keri did:
"It's really the opposite of how we might analyze a transaction," Keri explained, "we would say ‘you don't sign someone because he's famous, you sign him because he's going to produce.' But this guy Ryan Howard, whatever you want to call it, is the heart and soul, the face of the team, and therefore he does deserve the premium.
"I think the people that ridicule the Howard deal," Keri said, "and I confess I didn't think it was a good deal either, I think that other side of the equation that is ignored in analysis, the marketing and promotion side. I don't exactly believe in that side of the equation in player valuation, or subscribe to the idea that you should sign somebody because he's famous, but I think it's what the Phillies wanted and this is the result."
The "result" being ... what? First place? Jam-packed stands for every game?
Fair enough. But again, what's important to remember is that Howard's in his decline phase and will almost certainly get worse. That if he's the 18th best first baseman in the majors in 2011, he might well become the 24th best first baseman in the majors in 2014, when he's making $25 million.
Is there some value in his heart and his soul and his charm? Sure. Will that value, over the next six seasons, equal or exceed the difference between his salary and the value of his performance on the field?
That, my fine furry friends, seems to me exceptionally unlikely.
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