Jim Thome’s contract forced the Phillies to keep Ryan Howard in the minors after he had proven he was ready for the big leagues. The situation is currently paying off, as they are capturing Howard’s peak seasons very cheaply.
Yesterday they handed the zero-leverage Howard a record-tying contract, and he does not sound happy. If you read between the lines of his comments, it’s obvious he feels he deserved more money. Howard’s rejection of a one-year deal for more than $900K (as opposed to the renewal sans incentives he received) sends a bitter message. Randy Miller, unlike some of the other Philly papers, snagged a more direct quote:
"Go ask them," Howard blurted out in a raised voice. "They’re the ones with all the money."
Todd Zolecki of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes that Howard is probably looking to exceed the seven-year, $100MM deal Albert Pujols has (which is a bargain for him). Howard’s agent Casey Close told Baseball America they expect to surpass Chase Utley’s 7/85 contract if they go long-term.
Howard is an offensive superstar, no doubt, but there seems to be an unjustified sense of entitlement here. Whether it’s driven by his agent or Howard is uncertain, but agents work for players. Players with 1.5 seasons in the bigs have to pay their dues; the reward is being overpaid upon reaching free agency. My gut says Howard will not sign a long-term deal or be a Phillie five years from now.
That’s not to say the Phillies shouldn’t consider locking him up despite the fact that Howard turned 27 last November. They just have to be careful about projecting the 2014 performance of a player whose top comparables are Mo Vaughn (large decline at age 31, out of baseball at 35) and Travis Hafner (a DH). Howard can become a free agent after the 2011 season, when he’s 31.
One final thought: I think the Phillies should’ve renewed Howard at $1.5-2MM; it would’ve sent him and the public a much better message about getting a long-term deal done. $900K might tie a record, but only if you ignore inflation. Jim Salisbury agrees, saying even another $100K would’ve made a symbolic difference.