Ruben Amaro’s Albatross

When Ryan Howard signed that contract extension back in April, we number-crunchers acted like the Phillies just invested all our money in Goldman Sachs. Remember when Keith Law criticized the extension on ESPN 97.5 only to have Mike Missanelli repeatedly yell “He’s the preeminent power hitter of our generation”? The prevailing thought among the critics was that while Howard may provide some short-term value, he would not be able to justify his salary in the latter half of his deal due to aging and his one-dimensional set of baseball skills.

The following chart displays all Major League first basemen with at least 250 plate appearances and 500 defensive innings at first base this season, ranked by the differential between their prorated 2010 salary (to date, going into Friday’s games) and their current value above replacement.

Howard has, so far, been the fifth-least valuable first baseman in baseball, “costing” his team about $4 million. That means that if the Phillies had spent the money they paid Howard so far, minus $4 million, they could have found equivalent production on the free agent market.

“The preeminent power hitter of our generation” is ahead of four other aging players awarded expensive free agent contracts or extensions. And over the rest of the 2010 season, Howard projects to be the third-least valuable first baseman behind Mark Teixeira and Todd Helton.

It isn’t going to get better from here. Opposing managers are going to continue to utilize left-handed relief pitchers late in games to neutralize his bat, opposing pitchers will continue to throw him slop that breaks away, his bat speed will continue to wane, and as he ages he will become less mobile defensively and on the bases. If the chart above is depressing, then you better load up on the Prozac because Howard’s $125 million and declining production will begin to cripple the Phillies when it kicks in, starting in 2012.

Oh, and the Phillies’ lineup tonight is Rollins-Ibanez-Werth-Howard-Francisco-Dobbs-Valdez-Sardinha-Moyer.

Happy weekend!