Phillies pay top dollar for RBIs

You can probably imagine my reaction to this:

    Ryan Howard will remain in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform through the 2016 season after agreeing to a five-year extension worth an average of $25 million per year.

    The slugging first baseman has agreed to a $125 million extension that will kick in starting with the 2012 season. If Howard reaches incentive clauses and the team picks up its option for the 2017 season, Howard could earn as much as $138 million.

    The $25 million guaranteed average salary in the extension will be baseball's second-highest behind Alex Rodriguez's $27.5 million average under a 10-year contract with the Yankees running through 2017.

    Howard will earn $20 million in each of the 2012 and 2013 seasons and $25 million per season from 2014-16. The Phillies hold a club option for the 2017 season that is worth $23 million with a $10 million buyout.

Based purely on the numbers, Howard's new contract is crazy. Obviously. On its face, the best thing you can say about the deal is that it locks the Phillies into a declining market for the next seven seasons rather than eight or nine or 10 (and I'm guessing they were tempted).

Howard has played four full seasons. According to FanGraphs, he's been worth roughly $80 million over those four seasons: $20 million per season.

Is Howard likely to play better as he enters and then moves through his middle 30s? Generally speaking, we're more optimistic about players with a broad base of skills. Of course, that's the opposite of Ryan Howard. He's not a Gold Glover like Albert Pujols. He doesn't steal 10 or 15 bases every season like Albert Pujols. And -- oh, and by the way this is one of my Favorite Fun Baseball Facts -- if you believe all the record books, Howard is two months older than Albert Pujols.*

* And yes, Albert Pujols' agent's salivary glands exploded when he heard about Howard's deal. But that's the Cardinals' problem, not the Phillies' (or ours).

Maybe it's not fair to compare anybody to Albert Pujols, considering that he's the single best player in the sport. But Howard's going to be paid like one of the best player in the sport, and he's not. Not one of the very best. Last year, enjoying one of his two best seasons, Howard might have been one of the 30 best players in the majors. Maybe one of the 25 best. And maybe, just maybe, if you stretch the boundaries of analysis and tilt everything in his favor, he was one of the 20 best players in the major leagues.

That was 2009. What will we (and the Phillies) be trying to do in 2015? Make a case for him as one of the 40 best players in the majors? One of the 50 best?

Ryan Howard's new contract is a testament the enduring power of the Are-Bee-Eye. It's also a testament to old-school ignorance: ignorance of aging patterns, ignorance of position scarcity, ignorance of opportunity costs ... hey, take your pick. The Phillies have done a lot of things right over the last few years. But this is a big bowl of wrong.