As Ryan Howard continues his Ruth-like assault on Major League record books there must be serious trepidation in the front office about what the 2011 off-season will be like for the Philadelphia Phillies. Most experts on the subject believe the conversations have already begun and of course weighed in with their opinions. Should Jayson Werth get the big bucks? Should the team allow him to test the market, insuring to an extent the front office’s ability to re-sign the best homerun hitter in the league?
Over the weekend the Twins added to this pressure signing stud catcher Joe Mauer to an eight year, $184 million dollar contract. In fact the Twins put pressure on the league when they eschewed the notion that Mauer was destined for the Big Apple, Boston, or another major market team. And what should give the Phillies consternation is not the number of years or the total amount but the staggering $23 million per year salary. Howard is in the second year of a contract that pays him $18 million and will certainly be looking for an annual salary in excess of $23 million.
I personally don’t know what the Phillies are waiting for. In fact for the past four years I’ve wondered what they were waiting for. The Phillies like to play the arbitration game, and a look at the recent success and ability to retain players would say that they play the game well. However, as the team’s profile grows so do players’ and unfortunately arbitration is no longer an option and the Phillies are at the mercy of the market.
The Phillies should not for a second question whether or not they need Ryan Howard. They absolutely need him. He’s not an excellent fielder and he strikes out more than… well let’s just say he strikes out a lot; but Howardhas demonstrated through improved conditioning and performance that he is willing to do what it takes to be the best. Over the past three seasons Howard has hit .301 with a 1.003 OPS and averages approximately 20 Hr and 60RBI’s in August and September. In the past three years Howard has Homerun, RBI and Slugging totals matched by only one man in history. He is named Babe or George Herman something.
Frankly the Phillies don’t have a budget that compares to the Yanks and Sox or even the Dodgers so financially there are constraints. But the biggest problem the Phillies face is that for every player who signs a big deal (Mark Teixeira, Matt Holliday, Mauer, Jason Bay, and soon Albert Pujols) the pressure as well as the financial commitment grows. The Phillies should consider two things;
1) Never negotiate when the market absolutely determines the parameters (i.e. It’s always better to negotiate before a contract expires)
2) They absolutely need Ryan Howard for reasons not limited to his on-field performance
I despise writers or bloggers who pose problems without solutions so here are a few I can think of…
Raul Ibanez (signed a 3-year $36 million contract in ’09) will be a free agent the same year as Howard. The Phillies should consider signing Howard to an extension NOW before the economic climate changes and inflation (well inflates). They should also consider signing Jayson Werth to a short extension (3-5 years) and just suck it up and commit to the money they’d be spending on both Ibanez and Werth in 2011 and then simply allow Raul to walk.
Take the deferred money route. Did you know Bobby Bonilla will make $1.2 million a year from the Mets through the mid 2029? Matt Holliday’s new deal insures a paycheck from the Card’s ’til he’s 72 years-old. It’s not popular or often used but it can be effective and in the situation of Ryan Howard, who wants to be here, may be very feasible.
–Unbe-Lee-vable: If there was ever an in-auspicious start to a season Cliff Lee is in the thick of it. He entered Spring Training with a boot on his broken foot, was suspended for five games for (allegedly) throwing at a player’s head. Now it is reported that Lee has a moderate-to-serious abdominal strain. I can’t jeer Cliff Lee after all he did for the Phillies last season, but every day Ruben Amaro looks smarter and smarter for shipping Lee out West.