Howard vs. Zobrist: A Tale Of Two Contracts
It's a simple part of the process of running a baseball franchise - when players succeed, you reward that success by providing them with a new contract that provides them the security of a long-term raise.
If you're really smart, you also allow a variety of factors to determine exactly how much security you provide them, so that it doesn't come back to bite you in the ass later on.
Today, we are provided with two examples that fall on opposite ends of that spectrum. The Philadelphia Phillies gave first baseman Ryan Howard a five year, $125 million dollar extension, while the Tampa Bay Rays gave second baseman Ben Zobrist a contract with a base of three years and $18 million that could escalate to as much as five years and $30 million.
First, we have Howard's deal, which is absolutely insane. The contract's set for $115 million over five years with either an option for a sixth year at $23 million or a buyout worth $10 million. I will be the first to say that the Phillies will eventually regret this deal.
Ryan Howard is a great power hitter, as evidenced by his 198 home runs over the last four seasons. However, Howard is already 30 years old, and that gaudy home run total conveniently masks the fact that in each of those four years, his strikeout-to-walk ratio has gone up (1.67, 1.85, 2.45, 2.48). Then there's the tiny detail of his complete inability to hit lefties (career .226 AVG, .752 OPS and 3.62 K/BB ratio), which will only get more glaring.
This is not a trend that is likely to reverse, and while it's still early this season, Howard is at it again, with 14 strikeouts to only three walks in his first 80 at-bats. Add onto that the fact that this extension won't start for another two years, in which time Howard could very easily age as ungracefully as David Ortiz has, and you can't help but wonder what Philly was thinking.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is getting a steal in Zobrist. Ben is listed as a second baseman but is a true utility, capable of playing in the field anywhere but behind the plate - without being a defensive liability at any of those spots - and he's a switch hitter who hits equally well from both sides of the plate. You couldn't ask for a more versatile player.
Tampa has given him a signing bonus to bring his earnings for this year to roughly $1 million, plus $14.5 million in guaranteed salary over the next three years. After that comes either a $2.5 million buyout or an option for $7 million, either of which sounds pretty nice.
The Rays, rather than tacking onto a contract that wasn't close to over yet, provided a significant raise to a player who was an integral part of last year's success and is still young, versatile, and talented enough to contribute for a few more years (the period of time for which the contract is guaranteed).
Perhaps Rays GM Andrew Friedman can give a block of instruction to the rest of the league on spending money wisely.