Earlier this afternoon, word came out of Philadelphia that the Phillies have come to terms with first baseman Ryan Howard on a five-year, $125 million contract, keeping the slugger on the team through at least the 2016 season.
This contract is an extension of his current contract, which pays him $19 million this season and $20 million for 2011. The Phillies also have a club option worth $23 million for the 2017 season with a buyout of $10 million if they choose not to exercise it. To figure out how good of a deal this is, let's check out a long-term projection of Howard's career using ZiPS, a computer projection system I created.
Projection for Ryan Howard
The 30-year-old Howard is still a force, but is he worth his contract extension?
This deal appears risky for the Phils. The home runs numbers look pretty good, as do the RBIs. But the latter is mostly a function of Howard's hitting in the middle of a great lineup. And those on-base percentage and slugging numbers begin declining steadily in 2013. Paying more than $20 million per season for a first baseman with a sub-.350 OBP just isn't good business. Large, hulking sluggers aren't known for aging particularly well, and Howard will be 32 before the new contract even goes into effect. And let's say Howard hadn't signed this deal and hit the market after the 2011 season. It's hard to imagine he would get a contract worth $125 million.
Some years ago, Bill James described players as having "young player skills" or "old player skills." Players with old player skills were said to be those who had a lot of power and got on base frequently but also tended to have little speed or defensive value. This describes Howard's profile quite well, and unfortunately for the Phillies, it also describes Mo Vaughn and David Ortiz, two players who did not age gracefully.
Even with a payroll of $141 million, general manager Ruben Amaro is taking an enormous risk.
Dan Szymborski is the editor in chief of Baseball Think Factory.