The Philadelphia Phillies opened up their bank vault to sign All-Star first baseman Ryan Howard to a five-year $125 million contract extension that will keep the 30-year old slugger with the club through the 2016 season. The deal, first reported by Comcast Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury, includes a club held option for 2017, when Howard will be 37 years old.
The extension goes into effect after their current pact expires following the 2011 season. Howard's current deal pays him $19 million this season and $20 million in 2011, the final year of the three-year $54 million that bought out his final three seasons of salary arbitration eligibility.
The new deal will pay Howard $20 million in both 2012 and 2013 and escalates to $25 million for the remaining three guaranteed years. The club option, if exercised, would be worth an additional $23 million. Should the club elect to decline the option, they would owe Howard a $10 million buyout.
The deal has already sparked controversy with ESPN analyst Keith Law remarking: "If Howard is worth $25 million, Pujols is worth $50 million a year." Philadelphia had come under criticism from starting shortstop Jimmy Rollins for not electing to keep Cliff Lee when the club acquired Roy Halladay. According to Rollins' account, both he and outfielder Jayson Werth were baffled by the decision to move Lee when he had only one season remaining at the affordable cost of $9 million.
Howard's deal is the second very large deal Philadelphia has struck. After acquiring Halladay, the extended him for three seasons at a cost of $60 million. The two deals virtually ensure that Werth will not be retained at the end of the season.
Howard has been the power bat at the heart of the Phillie lineup for four seasons. Between 2006 and 2009 he hit 198 home runs and drove in 572 runs, leading the league three of the four seasons. On the young 2010 he's batted .275/.301/.475 in 83 plate appearances with 3 home runs.
Philadelphia's core of talent that includes Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, and Cole Hamels as well as Halladay and Howard will remain intact until at least the 2012 season. Though the subject of criticism, the deal will be judged by the toughest fans in America using a different measure. Whether the Phillies followers regard it as a success depends largely on how many World Series titles the club claims between now and its conclusion, not on how poor a decision it will be to over pay for the slugger's inevitable decline.
Joe Tetreault is Managing Editor of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He can be contacted here through The Biz of Baseball
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