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Howard’s Contract Isn’t Going Anywhere

Posted by Eric Seidman, Fri, July 19, 2013 11:00 AM | Comments: 26
Acquisitions, Analysis, Commentary

A sunk cost generally refers to money that has already been committed that should not factor into the decision-making process moving forward. The monetary commitment can’t be undone and therefore should not represent any type of deterrent to other decisions that could positively impact the organization. In certain terms, however, a sunk cost can refer to an unmovable commitment, even if future cash outflows are required, if there is virtually no way of recovering the costs.

Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract is a sunk cost.

Regardless of his health or performance issues, the Phillies simply won’t be able to remove the contract from the books in a manner that actually benefits them. It’s unlikely that the severity of his injury could result in an insurance settlement down the road and it’s hard to fathom any team taking him in a trade unless the Phillies covered 95%-100% of the cost. Even at that point, Howard’s relative struggles and injury risk will prevent the Phillies from acquiring a worthwhile player or prospect in a trade. The contract is signed, the money is guaranteed, and the player isn’t going anywhere.

One idea that has been floated around recently is a restructuring of the deal that defers a chunk of the contract beyond its current expiration date. Some fans have suggested this as a mutually beneficial outcome that helps the Phillies in the short-term while honoring their commitment to a franchise face. But I’m struggling to grasp why Howard would agree to such a buyout and why the Phillies would want to commit to a relatively astronomical interest rate on deferral to make it worth Howard’s while.

The Mets famously did something similar with Bobby Bonilla over a decade ago. Bonilla had one year and $5.9 million left on his contract in 2001 and, in knowing the Mets financial difficulties, agreed to a restructuring that that resulted in a 25-yr, $29.8 million deferral. There was supposedly another part of the deal that brings the total deferred amount Bonilla will receive to $42 million long after the days that even current Mets players have retired. These cases are rare, and assuming the Phillies would have to use a high interest rate to entice Howard into this type of buyout, it would mean committing even more money on a bad contract when the team isn’t really in a bind.

Ryan Howard isn’t going anywhere. The time has come to accept this as fact and discuss ways to make the best of the situation instead of conjuring up hypothetical means of jettisoning an albatross.

One reason it doesn’t make sense to try and defer Howard’s contract is that his most logical replacement is Darin Ruf, who makes under $500,000. It’s not as if the Phillies would restructure the deal to pay Howard $12 million from 2014-16 and reinvest those savings into an Adam LaRoche-type. They would install Ruf and see what he can do over a full season, even if it meant platooning him or using him in a non-traditional timeshare at the position. What’s the difference between paying Howard $25 million to play the position or paying Howard and Ruf $25.5 million?

In the latter scenario the team could work to rehab Howard into some type of role, whether it’s full- or part-time, instead of paying the majority of his salary to play for someone else.

Another reason is that we simply don’t know what a healthy Ryan Howard could provide at this point. Granted, his age and weight could prevent him from ever really being 100% healthy again, but if you have to pay him whether he’s on the Phillies or not, why not at least try to get him healthy? A major problem the Phillies have encountered throughout his contract is his health and their handling of it. They needed to do more than merely sit him every so often and a DL-stint should have been in the cards much earlier.

He suffered the Achilles injury and hasn’t been the same since. Last year’s struggles were chalked up as part of his rehab process. This year he should have returned healthy, but his knees are now failing him, preventing him from performing at even the replacement level. Some have speculated that Howard has been playing very hurt most of the season, which is ludicrous, if true. There was no reason to keep putting him in the lineup if he wasn’t healthy, because unhealthy Ryan Howard is about as valuable as Chad Tracy.

Howard only provides value to the Phillies if he is healthy and productive and those two attributes are often intertwined. Just because he is signed to a big contract doesn’t mean the team needs to force ways to eke out as much value as it can. That rings especially true in this case when said ekeing involves putting him on the field while hurting, which in turn puts the team in a bad position because him playing hurt represents a liability. The Phillies did this a bit last year with Josh Lindblom as well. Their continued usage of him in high leverage situations was built on seeing what he could do, but at least part of it was attributable to the fact that he was the major league return on Shane Victorino.

The Phillies may never use Ryan Howard in a straight platoon but they need to avoid bringing him back too early from an injury. They also need to stop treating him like a franchise-savior and someone that must be in the lineup at all times.

Having him 90%+ healthy for two of the five years on this deal is better than having sporadic health for five seasons, even if the former means he misses significant time in the other three seasons. The money is committed and it seems silly to defer his deal at a high interest rate or pay him to play somewhere else. In the meantime, the Phillies can stand to improve their handling of Howard to eke value out of him the right way – by playing him only when healthy, and predominantly against right-handed pitching.

Avatar of Eric Seidman

About Eric Seidman

Eric Seidman has written 64 articles on Phillies Nation.

Eric offers his unique analytical perspective to Phillies Nation and is a regular contributor on FanGraphs.com.

 
 
  • Posts: 5152 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    Thanks, Eric, I couldn’t agree more. If it’s a sunk cost, at least don’t hurt the club by playing him hurt or against pitchers he simply can’t hit.

     
    • Posts: 0 xxLouA

      so true, but remember there are a lot of pitchers he simply can’t hit. when he went on one of his 0 fer 24s he didn’t face only certain pitchers..
      whatever turns you on, I guess

       
      • Posts: 0 schmenkman

        @xxLouA, Howard started slow, but even with that 0-24 he still hit well from mid-May until he went on the DL.

         
      • Posts: 5152 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        Lou, That is exactly why I worded it that way instead of saying just bench him v. lefties. If there is a pitcher he doesn’t hit well, R or L, it shouldn’t matter. Do the right thing and don’t manage by paycheck. Just manage the damn ball club, not just Howard, all of them.

        There is too much good information out there, that – I don’t know why- but they don’t SEEM to be paying attention to. I’ve seen teams over shift on COUNTS, not just batters. There is a reason why the Hurdles and Showalters and many more, get so much out of their ball clubs.

         
      • Posts: 0 schmenkman

        @Lefty, if you mean Manuel hasn’t gotten a lot from his teams, I would respectfully disagree.

         
      • Posts: 5152 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        Schmenkman, i see what that comment looks like, so I understand your questioning it. I didn’t mean to throw Charlie under the bus at all. It IS my stated opinion that the players are not giving him their full ear all the time, but that’s the normal progression of a manager that has a solid core for a long time, and not the intent of my last comment.

        It’s not up to Charlie to sit up all night long after managing a game doing research. If you have little to no support from an all but non existent analytics department, you can’t get that information to the manager to use. If they were paying a heap of payroll on analytics and Charlie was just dismissing it, he wouldn’t have lasted here all these years.

         
  • Posts: 0 Ryan

    I think that it’s the perfect situation to platoon him with Darren Ruf. Ruf could get more at bats when we pull Howard against lefties late in the game or as an outfielder/DH(interleague)/pinch hitter.

     
    • Posts: 0 c. schreiber

      Hmmm, if I remember correctly and I do, myself and some others floated the idea back in late April early May but was poo pooed by most on this site. Hmmm, you all just seeing it now, huh.

       
      • Posts: 0 xxLouA

        this is 3rd time I had to sign into this site…..
        but agree with you on that it seems if they don’t like ur reply it gets dumped!!!!!
        my way or noway ……
        Far as I’m concerned Howard has been a disaster for the past few years since the WS and all the money is NOT going to change him……
        they are doing pretty darned good without his SOs….. left or right

         
      • Posts: 146 Eric Seidman

        Avatar of Eric Seidman

        I’m not sure what you’re referring to, but most of the writers here have long felt that Howard shouldn’t be playing full-time even when fully healthy, let alone when he’s hurt.

         
  • Posts: 0 Double Trouble Del

    Eric, who has speculated that he has been playing at 50%? If so how much of his health issues are related to the achilles, to his weight, to his conditioning program? Is he a non-factor for the remainder of the 2013 season?

     
  • Posts: 0 Don M

    I’ll never understand a professional sports team that plays a guy “because we’re paying him $x Million” ….. you are paying him that money regardless of his production, that shouldn’t weight into the lineup at all . . . and clearly the Phillies could have been running out more productive lineups by using platoons at some positions this season

     
  • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

    While it’s a better idea to consider how to enable Howard to be productive the rest of the way, a couple thoughts on his contract seem relavant even after it’s been over reviewed to death.

    One, there’s no implication here that 125 mil was wasted…I get that, just that it’s sunk, meaning the chances of recouping any of it might well be best addressed with only the tooth fairy. But it’s a good opportunity to remind that even though he had already slipped a little amount by extension commencement, as Ruben pointed out at the time of the signing, he was being paid for past results as much as anything. 900K for 57 shots is blue light special investing, and that’s not all he did at a relative to performance comp rate. The Angels splurged nickels and dimes only to thank Mike Trout for a great season. We’ll see if they ever make up for what he’s done, and is doing unless their backs are to the wall via the call of free agency.

    Secondly, at the time of the signing, Bobby Cox wondered if RyHo was “worth” 25 mil, how much Pujols was worth. 50 mil. he offered. Pujols, in a way, did get close to 50, unless the Angels expect him to perform brilliantly in the second half of that deal.

    But the relevance of that ties in with Detroit, and this seemingly noticeable notion that money is no object, and forgetting the how good of a pitcher is Papelbon, is leading a goodly number of folks to think Detroit can easily budget for him

    Paraphrasing Cox…if Howard was “worth” 25, and if Pujols was worth 50, then what’s Cabrera worth…75? Since Fielder, at a minimum, the Tigers have reupped big time with Verlander, may have done same with Vic Martinez, have Cabrera to deal with in 2 years, and Scherzer to deal with this off season. Illitch may be super rich, but one still must assume there are limits.
    So Detroit has to decide if they like Papelbon the pitcher (and his future), and his price of about 25-30 mil due and as importantly, relate it to the oversall scheme of their operation. It’s not like I’m into that situation well enough to opine firmly on it, but I do feel pretty sure it’s not quite as easy as George M III used to make it look to float those bucks. Someday, we’ll find out that even the Dodgers have limits. Every club does..

     
  • Posts: 0 George

    I’d like to know where that 50% health figure comes from, myself. 50% would put me and probably most others in a hospital bed, probably in the intensive care unit.

    Another thing comes to mind, too. Manuel was sitting Howard much more than usual this year, both when Howard reported that his knee was bothering him and when the team was facing a tough lefty. Early in the year, Ruf was trying to master left field at AAA, so he wasn’t an option then. Saying that the Phils “can stand to improve their handling of Howard” is unneeded advice to my thinking, because it looks like it is already being done.

     
  • Posts: 0 Floyd

    I have a hard time believing that if Ryan Howard was a free agent immediately, he wouldn’t get at least a three year contract from an American League team. And if that is the case, then why wouldn’t a team take him now or after this year ?

    And we’d have to eat what ?? 95% ?? So he is worth $1.25 mill per year ?

    I think he’s worth more than that.

     
    • Posts: 0 George

      I think if Howard suddenly became a free agent, I think he’d get a one year deal, possibly two. Even a DH has to have good legs to generate any power, and he still has to be able to run when he gets on base. Right now, he’s still a question mark.

      I do think he’s worth more than 1.25M, though. But to get any talent back for him, the Phils would probably have to eat something near that 90%. If they settled for middling talent in return, that figure would drop, of course.

      That’s why, as the article pointed out, the contract is a sunk cost, and the team must maximize whatever they can on the deal. If you drop money in the toilet, you’d certainly try to fish some of it out before the flush is finished.

      I wish people would stop worrying about the “big contract.” It’s a done deal, just like WW2. You can’t change any of it, so you might as well move on to WW3.

       
      • Posts: 0 Floyd

        I’d be willing to bet a nickel that they move him to an AL team just to save money. But then again, if his legs never come back … ?? … then yes, he ain’t goin anywhere.

         
  • Posts: 0 Rick

    The best thing to do with the Ryan Howard contract is to learn from it and not repeat the mistake. I don’t know why teams are offering these ridiculous contracts to aging players, but far too frequently they become an albatross for the team. It would be far better to emulate the St. Louis Cardinals, they control costs and still win!

     
  • Posts: 0 bacardipr

    It’s a sunk cost yest but a cost that still is hindering the team. Perhaps there was a few signing now or down or moves that cant be made because of the space his contract is taking up. They seem unwilling or unable to go beyond the tax cap. Rube will have to get creative and sign a few undervalue contracts like a Frandsden or Kratz to make up for it. Or get more young cost controlled starters such as he did with Revere. Surprisingly this has as actually worked in their favor(to this point) when they where outbid on Upton and Hamiltion. Its also a good reason why Delmon is here.

     
  • Avatar of "Big Ed" Delahanty

    While we all know the Howard contract is the proverbial mariner’s albatross that Cooleridge penned centuries ago, at least it ain’t as bad as A-Roid’s. Man, did the Yankees bend over on that one. Yikes! That being said, the Big Price isn’t going anywhere so we will have to figure out how to manipulate around the contract, kin of like trying to jam the square peg into the round hole.
    Anyway, let’s crush the Mutts tonight.

     
    • Posts: 0 hk

      Big Ed,

      ARod got his 10 year extension after the 2007 season. In 2008, he had an OPS+ of 150 in 594 PA’s. In 2009, he had an OPS+ of 138 in 535 PA’s. In 2010, he had an OPS+ of 123 in 595 PA’s. In 2011, he had an OPS+ of 119 in 428 PA’s. In 2012, he had an OPS+ of 113 in 529 PA’s. If you believe in WAR, ARod has generated 21.3 WAR since he signed his extension. Contrarily, Howard has produced -0.6 WAR since his extension began. If ARod never plays again, Howard will have to produce a lot to make his contract extension look better than ARod’s.

       
      • Avatar of "Big Ed" Delahanty

        I see your point HK, but how many years of that type of production were…let’s say “artificially enhanced?”
        And even in the small chance that they weren’t, I still think A-Roid is a mega you-know-what, stats or no stats. Lol. Either way both contracts are ridiculous compared to what people win professions that advance society make. Sorry if I’m bitter, but as much as I love baseball, these guys are ridiculously overpaid.

         
      • Posts: 0 hk

        Big Ed,

        I agree with some of your points. However, I take no solace about how horrible Howard’s contract is from the fact that ARod’s is also bad.

         
  • Posts: 0 George

    Once in a while, a sunk cost is actually refloated. Vernon Well’s mega-contract was traded twice after it looked like it was in Davey Jones’ Locker for all eternity.

    Most sunk costs, though, will remain down there with the Titanic. Ryan Howard’s will most likely not even lure a deep sea treasure hunter.

     
    • Posts: 0 Hogey's Role

      I agree with the Vernon wells statement I made that argument a few weeks back…

      You never say never!

       
  • Posts: 0 Phil

    Howard is a waste of time. I say trade him for a minor leaguer. Get him out of here.

     
 
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