Werth Is Cool; Howard Is Not

A nice quote from Jayson Werth per David Murphy, PDN:

You look at the guys around here – we have some high-caliber guys. We have some guys who are really good baseball players. But on top of that, they’re young. You look at Cole – he’s what, 24 [actually, 25]? We’ve got some guys that can play for a long time, so it makes sense to bring all these guys back here. And we were successful, and it just shows you the type of organization that the Phillies are. They’re first class all the way. They take care of their guys, they want to win, and they put a product on the field that is conducive to winning. And then after they win, they bring everybody back . . . It’s good to be successful, and it’s good to have an organization that wants to be successful.

Jayson WerthRead that, and then hearken back to the days of Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen, both of whom were peeved at the Phils’ inability to commit to winning. How quickly the tides can change.

One day, you’re putting Alex Gonzalez (the bad one) in the six-hole; the next day, you’ve got Shane Victorino in there.

For as much as new GM Ruben Amaro has been bashed for poorly handling the Pat Burrell situation, he does deserve kudos for how he’s handled 7 out of the 8 arbitration issues this off-season. Maybe player analysis isn’t his strength — his strength could lie in evaluating contracts. It’s a change from Pat Gillick, of course; he is arguably the opposite if you take a look at the Adam Eaton and Geoff Jenkins contracts.

Werth’s comments were pleasing to read, since players usually don’t make the effort to offer compliments — it’s easy to take the contracts for granted.

On the flipside, you have Ryan Howard, the only Phillie whose contract issues haven’t been quelled yet. With the advice of his family and agent Casey Close, Howard has expressed that he thinks he should be one of the highest-paid players in baseball given his incredible power numbers. Officially, Howard and his agent submitted an $18 million request to the Phillies, who countered with $14 million.

Unless they settle prior to arbitration, either Howard will get $18 million or $14 million; there is no compromise. Unlike last year, the Phillies are highly likely to win because their offer is a substantial raise and one of the highest arbitration offers ever, and Howard is coming off of yet another season that saw a decline in offensive numbers across the board. An 80% raise for declining production is absurd, and not even a Sabermetrics-avoiding panel of arbitrators could justify that.

Howard isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season, but it’s fairly obvious that if he thinks he should be that well-compensated, his time in Philly is winding down.

He’s 29, so the Phillies will control him in his final “prime years” (and that may have passed already, as players of Howard’s build do not age well) and thus can confidently go year-to-year in arbitration with him. They will be slightly overpaying for his services, but will not be bound to a contract that can potentially hamstring the organization.

Trading Howard after the 2009 season would probably be the best route to capitalize on his value, assuming he does not have a disastrous season. Other teams will get two full seasons with the slugger, and can either trade him again, or recoup draft picks when Howard becomes a free agent. Additionally, with Howard’s aging concerns, the sooner the Phillies can get back a healthy return for the slugger, the better. The Phillies wouldn’t want to get stuck trying to trade a player with $20 million requests whose OPS struggles to reach .825.

Further, a few of the Phillies’ contracts are backloaded, so having payroll space to accommodate for this is important. The list:

  • Chase Utley: $11M in ’09 | $15M in ’10-’13.
  • Raul Ibanez: $6.5M in ’09 | $11.5M in ’10 and ’11.
  • Cole Hamels: $4.35M in ’09 | $6.65M in ’10, and $9.5M in ’11.
  • Jayson Werth: $2M in ’09 | $7M in ’10.
  • Ryan Madson: $2M in ’09 | $4.5M in ’10 and ’11.
  • TOTAL: $25.85M in ’09 | $44.65M in ’10 ($18.8M difference) .

That’s a 72.7% increase in salary for those five players alone from ’09 to ’10, or about 15% of a $130M payroll.

Amaro, who has shown excellent judgment when it comes to the business side of baseball, will have to deal with all of this and will have the burden of trading a very popular player. Ultimately, trading Howard — for a handsome assortment of players and prospects — after the ’09 season would be a positive step for the team.

If the Phillies don’t get a first baseman in the package for Howard, it becomes an intriguing conundrum as to how to plug that hole. Moving Utley — who has some limited time at first base in his career as a Phillie — over a few feet would be neutralizing his amazing defense at second base. Other than that, the Phillies really have no realistic options for first base. Pat Burrell would have been a logical option … oops.

Aubrey Huff will be a free agent after the ’09 season. Just saying.

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2 comments

  1. PhillyFriar

    January 24, 2009 05:00 PM

    Good stuff, Bill. I agree that Howard’s salary will soon begin outstripping his value to the organization, but I wonder if that fact will limit what we can get for him next offseason — and, furthermore, limit the market of teams that can afford a player like him.

    It’s an interesting situation to weigh: at what point of diminishing returns (in a potential trade) do you just decide to keep him and ride out the string?

    As far as replacements go, Nick Johnson is a sleeper candidate as a free agent next year, and we could always trade for a blocked prospect like Kyle Blanks. Final food for thought: Ibanez at 1B? He’s a less than stellar -6.9 UZR/150 in 135 games in his career, but that’s a far cry better than the -23.9 and the -11.0 UZR/150 he’s put up in LF over the last two years.

  2. Bill Baer

    January 24, 2009 05:34 PM

    I’m sure there will be a diminishing return, but it’s certainly not a situation like the one the Dodgers were in when they tried to trade Andruw Jones.

    Stay away from Nick Johnson! His injury bug is contagious!

    I thought about Ibanez at first base — that’s certainly a possibility. That would open up a gap — mercifully — in the outfield. Corner outfield spots are easier to fill, as far as I can tell.

    In fact, there will be a bunch of good free agent outfielders: Ankiel, Bay, Crawford, Giles, Guerrero, Holliday, and Nady are notables.

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