Apr 262010

by Mike Radano

The first reaction is usually the same no matter your station in life.

“That’s a lot of money.”

After that, well, it’s all in perspective.

Shortly after 2 p.m.CSNphilly.com’s Jim Salsbury broke the news – in other words the first to report not the first to see Todd Zolecki’s column and in turn let everyone on twitter or tuned to the right radio frequency in on the news- that the Phillies and Ryan Howard had agreed to a five-year contract extension worth $125 million. Howard, who will be 37 when the contract expires if the Phillies pick up the option year, is the centerpiece to the Phillies offense and seemingly intended to break the free agency bank.

The reality is, in baseball terms or better yet in Phillies terms (it’s ignorant to compare their payroll to Kansas City or Toronto for instance) this is the perfect fit.

Now, let’s start with the negatives as suggested by ESPN’s Keith Law who once worked for well, coincidentally Toronto as a statistical analyst to the point where he worked on contracts. Law, who never dealt with a big budget like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or the current edition of the Philadelphia Phillies, is adamant about his disdain for this deal and in many ways Howard’s game.

According to Law “this is one of the worst extensions of its kind — it’s an overpay in both years and dollars. Howard is one of the last guys in the middle of the lineup I’d give that kind of money, too.”

First things first, it’s not Law’s money. It’s the Phillies money and obviously the Phillies see this as an opportunity to raise their product awareness and make more money. In fact, the Phillies are set to pay Howard $19 million this year and $20 million next year so he won’t get a raise until the third year of the extension.

In case anyone is wondering, 2014 is also the year the Phillies television contract runs out with Comcast and one has to wonder how those negotiations will be handled. Seriously, can XPHinity be that far off.

Back to Law who notes that “(Howard’s) 30, has a bad body, is not a good defender, and has struggled to make contact to versus lefties — he’s gone backwards in that area over the past couple of years. If you were locking him up through age 31, it’s not so bad.”

Bad body? Howard is in the best shape of his life and is still in his prime. Yeah, he’ll be 37 when all is said and done but with the current revenue stream coming out of Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies can handle the cost. And his defense has improved since the arrival of Sam Perlozzo; anyone can see that unless they don’t watch the game.

Law’s final point (at least for this column) “How happy are if you’re Albert Pujols? If Howard is worth $25 million, Pujols is worth $50 million a year.”

The answer should be damn happy. Pujols should be thrilled. Howard set the bar, which by the way will now feature $10 Budweisers to cover Pujols future contract.

The Phillies took a huge gamble signing Howard long term but they understand what he means to this team. Not the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Rockies or Orioles but the Phillies. Statistics are a huge part of baseball and the current trend of statistical analysis is both fascinating and interesting. But there has to be a middle ground and that’s what writers like Law, Rob Neyer and Co. seem to forget.

If the Kansas City Royals offered this to Howard is would be silly. The same goes for Florida, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and of course the Phillies spring training neighbors Toronto.

But this isn’t a small market team. This is the two-time National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies and they can afford Howard at this price. They understand his role on this team and let’s be honest, the Phillies have witnessed a young man eager to improve himself to get the big contract.

Howard has adopted an off season workout routine which has put him in the best shape of his life. Howard has improved defensively which has been on full display over the Phillies recent road trip through Atlanta and Arizona. He’s a huge presence in the Phillies clubhouse and there are no numbers for chemistry and leadership.

He also produces at the plate in an amazing fashion.

This remains Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley’s team and will until their contracts run out. Howard will meanwhile continue to be the big kid, the enforcer and the scariest bat in the Phillies lineup.

“We tried to design the contract in a way that our goal remains to put a championship caliber product on the field year in and year out,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a press conference from AT&T Park seated next to Howard. “We designed the contract to give us flexibility to be able to do that. As far as Jayson (Werth) and Jimmy and others that will be free agents in the not so distant future, naturally we want to keep all of those guys. But it will go by a case-by-case basis and hopefully we can keep this group together and we’ll see how pieces of the puzzle fit with us.”

The Phillies still need pitching but that’s always the case. They need Cole Hamels to find consistency and Kyle Kendrick to do likewise. They need their bullpen to deliver on a nightly basis and they need the Brad Lidge of 2008 to return as closer and get everyone into specific roles.

They need for Rollins to get healthy and for Werth to continue a season that lends to a big payday for 2011.

Speaking of Werth, the best news of the day may have been from <a href=”http://zozone.mlblogs.com/”>mlb.com’s Todd Zolecki. </a> According to Zolecki, the Phillies indicate they are confident they can sign Werth, who will be a free agent after this season. Werth is the right-handed power in this lineup and if the Phillies can keep him (that would involve jettisoning Raul Ibanez and the $10 owed the veteran leftfielder for next year) and in turn find room for Domonic Brown in 2011, then Howard’s contract no matter the size doesn’t matter.

Look, the Phillies understand their payroll better than anyone. If they think this contract works for them, who can really argue the point unless it’s someone who has won a World Series in the last two seasons.

Mike Radano’s blog can also be found at philliesphever.wordpresss.com and highhopesblog.com

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