The Ridiculous and Capricious Ryan Howard Contract (Part 1)

Ryan Howard’s extravagant seven year contract is excessive, to put it kindly.

The money is too high, but more poignantly, the length is absurd, which has even caused the media — normally very pro Howard — to question the Phillies’ sanity.

ESPN baseball writer Keith Law opened with this salvo Monday night (subscription only):

“The contract extension the Phillies gave Ryan Howard made me laugh when I first heard about it. If you sign a player two years before he hits free agency, you’re supposed to get a discount. Instead, the Phillies paid a premium, giving Howard more money to cover years when he won’t produce nearly enough value to justify the salary.”

ryan-howard-contractMy Philly fan friends immediately attacked Law, one writing:

“The next time Keith Law says something positive about the Phillies will be the 1st.”

Others in the City of Brotherly Love have written the same about Gregg Doyel, among other writers they believe have bias against their teams. Look, many writers are annoying and partisan, but few, if any, have agendas against entire cities/fan bases.

Howard, seven for his last 40 with no homers since April 10 and no RBI the past week, will be 31 years old at season’s end. He has undoubtedly already hit his peak, and it will be a slow downhill grind from here — “faster than the norm” as Law notes.

Recent history reminds us that power hitters of large physical stature similar to Howard – Mo Vaughn and David Ortiz, to name a couple – tend to age far less gracefully (minus steroids, of course) than players of smaller stature with more all-around athletic ability.

The guys from came up with the perfect visual reminder of this time-honored trend of behemoth power hitters seing their skill level basically fall off a cliff (below). Their analysis of the Howard contract is also spot-on.


Image credit:

Ryan Howard also is a severe liability when facing left-handed pitching, against whom he’s barely hit .200 the past few seasons.

Despite a slow power start this season (on pace for 24 HRs, instead of his customary 45-50), he’ll probably still hit his 35-40 homers this year and close to that number for the next one or two afterwards, but look for 25-30 HRs to be more the norm during the latter portion of this contract; and I am being generous. (In my truthful mind, I don’t think he’ll reach 500 career homeruns, while many think 600 is a lock. Ryan has 225 currently. He’d need to average roughly 40 per year for the next seven seasons.)

Howard is also a mediocre fielder at best, he’s slow, and plays a corner infield position, with no opportunity to move anywhere else, or obviously to DH while in the National League.

Philly fans are historically hyper-sensitive to any criticism of their stars (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Ibanez), and I understand management’s desire to keep this core group together even as they age, but seven years at such astronomical rates is a force and simply unwise.

Law continued:

“The Phillies just handed him the second-highest average annual salary in the game, but he’s not the second-best position player in the game, or the fifth best, or even in the top 20. He’s not even the best player on his own team — that would be second baseman Chase Utley, who’ll barely make half of what Howard earns in 2013, the last year of Utley’s current deal.”

He later concluded:

“If Howard is worth $25 million, Pujols is worth $50 million a year.”

I’d say Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder are also worth more than Howard. Both are significantly younger, and while Prince is also corpulent, he has better numbers than Ryan overall. Gonzalez is a much better defender with similar stats in a pitchers’ park. Needless to include, neither strikes out as frequently as Howard, who whiffs around 200 times per season (though he’s only on pace for around 125 in 2010)

All this information is so transparent, which makes this contract all the more expected unfortunately.

More decent analysis — local, national, both sides of the coin — can be read here, here, here and here.

*Note: Philly fans also become incredibly apoplectic when any comparison between Howard and Adam Dunn is made, but people often react with ad hominem attacks when they know someone is making a valid point they cannot accept (on any topic). Here, any sane or objective person with no Philadelphia allegiance (like myself), would concur that they are the ones being unreasonable presuming they refuse a Howard/Dunn analogy.*

I will save these findings for Part 2 of this series later in the week.


* – Ryan Howard photo credit:

About AJ Kaufman

A former schoolteacher and military historian, A.J. now works in public relations. As an MSF columnist since 2009, he supports anything baseball-related. Raised in San Diego, A.J. has since resided in numerous parts of America, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington State. After departing the coasts in 2005, he's traveled the back roads of all 50 states and prefers the Heartland. Married to Maria, A.J. is the author of three books and enjoys reading presidential biographies.


  1. I have an issue with the timing of this more than anything else. At the very least, Philly would've been better-served to wait after the current season to explore an extension with Howard. You know how fans have complained about some teams (i.e. the Yankees) bidding against themselves for players? That's the way I feel about this trade. Who out there would've honestly given Howard $25M a season? That's the reason why the timing of the extension is ridiculous.

  2. It boggles my mind why the media cares how much money athletes make. Comments like the contract is excessive or ridiculous. It's not your money or my money or Keith Law's money. Who cares if it was "excessive" or "ridiculous"? All sports contracts are excessive.
    Some movie stars are terrible actors, but their movies sell well and they make more money than their more-talented counterparts. The same holds for Howard. The Phillies know that he will put fans in the seats, therefore driving revenue, and allowing the team to afford him.
    The Phillies have been at around 102% capacity for the last couple of years. It isn't like the Atlanta Braves who play to a nearly empty stadium. Many fans readily admit on message boards that they have no problem with the team raising ticket prices or parking as long as the money is funnelled back into protecting the current payroll and roster.

  3. This was about the fans too. Letting them know that they can count on their slugger being in the lineup for a while. Many of us have lived in fear looking ahead to the day when the Yankees or Red Sox would've given him this exact same deal. It was reassuring to us that our team ponied up the cash. It would've been devastating as a fan to watch the Phillies cultivate Howard's talent just to let the aforementioned teams (or Mets, or Angels) swoop in and take him in free agency.

  4. Bucket Head says:

    According to
    "Part of the problem always seemed to be quantifying the unprecedented nature of Howard's success. Last season, he became just the fourth player in major league history to record a fourth straight 40-homer, 130-RBI season, joining Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa. He reached 200 career homers faster than any player in the history of the sport, breaking Ralph Kiner's record by 48 games.

    Since becoming an everyday player on July 1, 2005, Howard leads all major league players in home runs (222) and RBI (650). He is the Phillies' single-season home-run leader (58 in 2006) and its career postseason RBI leader (27)"

  5. AJ Kaufman says:

    Are you arguing that Philly is suddenly a small market team? Without looking, I bet they are top 5 in payroll. STL has far more to fear about Pujols walking than Philly does re Howard. Your lineup is stacked as well as any in baseball. Your poor fans…boo-hoo….2 straight WS appearances.

  6. AJ Kaufman says:

    It's not about the amount but rather the length.

    Also, now STL, SD & Milwaukee have to pay their guys that much or more, and at least two of those teams cannot do so. Philly broke the bank and all of baseball will be affected.

  7. AJ Kaufman says:

    Aside from the incredibly appalling number of strikeouts, no one denies this. However, will he do this any of the next seven years? I doubt it.

    Adam Dunn's numbers since 2007 mirror Howard's. Where are his 25 million dollar contracts, MVPs, All-Star games and Subway commercials.

    Ask Joe Morgan.

  8. It drives me crazy when people physically compare Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder. Last time I checked, Howard has lost nearly 30 lbs. coming into this season. Howard: 6'4" 255. Prince Fielder: 5'11" 268. Which one is built like a linebacker and which one is built like a tub of lard?

  9. AJ Kaufman says:

    The small ballpark and stellar lineup he plays in contribute to his numbers. Put him in SD, he hits 30-35 HRS max, 100 RBI.

    Adrian Gonzalez is twice the player Howard is, maybe three times.

  10. AJ Kaufman says:

    "The Phillies know that he will put fans in the seats, therefore driving revenue, and allowing the team to afford him.
    The Phillies have been at around 102% capacity for the last couple of years…Many fans readily admit on message boards that they have no problem with the team raising ticket prices or parking as long as the money is funnelled back into protecting the current payroll and roster. "

    Now wait a minute, I thought were in a recession??? (-:

  11. That's not at all what I'm saying. I am responding to Schultz's claim that they overpaid and that no one else would pony up the money. Since they have been successful, they are now an elite payroll team and can compete with those 4 teams for elite free agents.

  12. AJ Kaufman says:

    Who did that? I was comparing their stats. Fielder's a better player.

    And by the way, Fielder is MUCH faster on the bases than Howard, not to mention five years younger.

    Nice try.

  13. AJ Kaufman says:

    Trur. They are as good at buying players as the Yanks or Boston. No doubt.

    The contract is still way way too long. Maybe too early too, but the point is he's not worth the length. The final 2-3 years of that contract will be worthless.

  14. Bucket Head says:

    Good point about the small ballpark considering Howard has more home runs on the road (117) than at home (108) at the teeny tiny ballpark. Howard has played 16 games at the enormous ballpark in San Diego and has 5 homeruns and 19 RBI which almost perfect extrapolates to (cough, cough) 50 home runs in a season and a staggering 190 RBI.

  15. Buying players. Hilarious. Let's count the BIG free agent signings by the Phillies over the last 5 years: Raul Ibanez (who nobody wanted anyway). . . and, uh, uh, nobody. Giving your minor league guys like Howard, Rollins, Hamels, Utley, and your Rule 5 gems like Werth and Victorino is hardly buying players.

  16. Not you, per se, but people mention Howard "breaking down," without acknowledging that Fielder might and sooner too since he is carrying more weight on a smaller frame. Howard has lost nearly 30 lbs. going into this season. Fielder became a vegetarian and hasn't lost any weight.

  17. AJ Kaufman says:

    Hallday counts. Trades count. Lee counts. Most teams cannot do that.

  18. AJ Kaufman says:

    His lineup is stacked like no other team, including the Yankees.

    He just came up with the bases loaded in the 10th, which is typical. But he whiffed, of course, as it was a lefty.

    You cannot possibly believe he is as good as Fielder or Gonzalez, or that he's going to produce at a 25 million clip for the next seven years.

  19. Jimmy Cokes says:

    The Mo Vaughn comparison is simplistic and misinformed. Mo Vaughn was an injury prone fat guy who was completely out of shape. Howard — as has been pointed out above — has lost 30 lbs, and has improved his fielding by leaps and bounds. Anyone who regularly watches Phillies games can attest that he's become an above-average fielder. This is a guy who has worked hard to improve himself physically each season, and has shown no interest in resting on his laurels. You can disagree with the deal, but quite frankly I think Howard will be a top tier player through the end of the guaranteed years, and everything I've seen from him on a season-by-season basis bears that out.

    • Jimmy, yes the Mo Vaughn comparison is simplistic; It's meant to be. It's a simple analogy to illustrate something we've seen time and again in baseball: larger sluggers, as they age, become less productive and less valuable. It doesn't mean they become BAD or unproductive. It just means that they are not peak performers. When you are paying a guy $25 million – remember…$25 MILLION – you expect him to be one of the top 5 players in baseball. I am sure that Ryan Howard is a very high character guy, that he works hard, and he may even buck the trend and come close to maintaining his production through 37-38 years old. However, you are committing $125 million more dollars in hopes that a guy does what a lot of his comparable peers have not done. The amount of the money is what makes this capricious and what makes it a very risky deal for the Phillies. There is a difference between a guy being a top-top-tier player during his peak years of 28-31 and then maintaining top-top-tier status at 35, 36, 37. Without the aid of steroids, it just doesn't usually happen, and Howard doesn't strike me as a guy who would ever reach for the needle.

      I like Ryan Howard and I have nothing against the Phillies. I hope it works out. But why give such a HUGE extension two years before free agency to a guy who history says will start to gradually erode? It just doesn't make sense.

  20. DJ Sandler says:

    it's an affirmative action contract extension — and that's no joke

    these guys make way too much money, period (in all major sports) — it has ruined the sports in alot of ways

  21. I wouldn't say that DJ. A lot of people are even more aspired to become pros simply because of the lure of the fame which being an athlete brings.

  22. big article about him in Men's Health or Men's Fitness this month about how he has slimmed down and gotten serious with a top notch trainer. I think he will do well as he ages. Vaughn tore up his leg with the Angels when he fell in the dugout and that was his downfall.

  23. AJ Kaufman says:

    Perfect explaination, Jerod.

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