With seven of his eight arbitration-eligible players taken care of this off-season, things were looking good for new GM Ruben Amaro, despite an ill-advised signing of free agent outfielder Raul Ibanez after spitting at Pat Burrell, now a Tampa Bay Ray. Howard’s situation was a complicated one; it was — if I may exaggerate a bit — a minefield.
Go year-to-year with him and you probably end up grossly overpaying for an overrated player.
Sign him to a multi-year deal of the two- or three-year variety and you might be stuck with an ineffective player towards the end of the contract. He may become an untradeable burden.
Sign him to a multi-year deal of the four- to six-year variety and you are attaching yourself to a player whose body type does not scream “I’ll age gracefully” and accepting that your first baseman alone will account for 15% of your payroll for the next 4-6 years. You would then have about as much flexibility financially as Citigroup does right now.
Amaro ended up going with the second option — a short multi-year deal that takes him through his arb-eligible years and ends when he becomes a free agent after the 2011 season. And, as he has done so well this season, Amaro made the deal a win-win for both sides. Howard will make $54 million over the next three years ($15M, $19M, $20M from ’09-’11), an average annual value of $18 million — which was what Howard was asking for in arbitration.
FanGraphs has estimated Howard’s value the last three seasons as follows…
2006: 1.084 OPS, 0.2 UZR/150 — $25.7M
2007: .976 OPS, -1.3 UZR/150 — $17.1M
2008: .881 OPS, 0.7 UZR/150 — $14.1M
Of the four projection systems listed on FanGraphs, Oliver is the only one that sees him with an OPS under .900 in 2009:
- Bill James: .963 OPS
- CHONE: .955
- Marcel: .922
- Oliver: .892
If Howard is closer to the James/CHONE projections and he “breaks even” defensively (0.0-ish UZR/150), he’ll probably be worth $17-19M next year, which would make his salary pretty darn accurate to an AAV of $18M. Howard’s value is even a bit higher if the theory of MattS from The Good Phight is correct:
Due to the location of first base (the right side of the infield), teams employ large shifts for left-handed power hitters when it is possible, frequently placing three infielders on the right side of the diamond. However, when there are runners on base, it is more difficult to position infielders in such a way that minimizes the hitter’s chance of hitting safely if they hit the ball in play. The result is that for a given batting average, a left-handed power hitter is actually more likely to get those hits when runners are on base. These are naturally higher leverage situations in general. Hence, a given batting line for a left-handed power hitter is more valuable than the equivalent batting line for right-handed power hitters.
Later in the comments, he explains Howard’s value:
Ryan Howard is probably about $500K more valuable (1 run) than his context-neutral stats would suggest. So is David Ortiz. So is Jason Giambi. Because these hitters will systematically overperform the implied run value of their AVG/OBP/SLG/SB/CS stats, they are more valuable than the right handed equivalent.
As long as Howard’s production doesn’t completely divebomb between now and the end of the 2011 season, he most likely will have deserved the $54 million. Here are a couple more great things about the deal:
- The contract isn’t so expensive so as to make Howard untradeable, and he is and most likely will continue to be productive enough to entice teams to want to trade for him despite the expense. This will be more relevant in 2011.
- The Phillies can still offer him arbitration after his contract expires. If Howard declines, which he most likely will, the Phils get two draft picks as compensation for his leaving (assuming he’s a Type A).
Major kudos to Ruben Amaro for excellently handling arbitration, although it still won’t make me forget spurning Pat the Bat for Raul Freakin’ Ibanez.