In case you haven’t yet heard, Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard signed a 5 year, $125 million contract that will begin in 2012, carrying through 2016, including an utterly ridiculous $10 million buyout on a $23 million option for 2017. Those will be Howard’s age 32-36 seasons.
This is a bad deal for many reasons, mostly that Howard is already ridiculously overrated at this point. However, I would like to take a look at this deal from a Brewers perspective. More specifically, that means how this deal affects Prince Fielder‘s future contract negotiations.
Fielder has been and always will be compared to Ryan Howard – they’re both high power, poor defending, superstar-type first basemen. Both of them will belong in a DH role soon, if they don’t already. Both of them have 50 HR power. Prince, however, hasn’t won an MVP award or any championships, and that is probably what accounts for his slightly lower arbitration awards (6.5M and 10M in first two years vs. 10M and 15M for Howard). However, Fielder is 4.5 years younger than Howard, and that should be key in contract negotiations.
At age 30, Howard is likely already past his peak. His top three similar batters through age 29 are Richie Sexson, Cecil Fielder, and Mo Vaughn. All were ineffective by age 33 and out of baseball by age 35. Fielder will turn 26 this season – his top similar batters through age 25 are Juan Gonzalez, Eddie Murray, and Jim Rice. All were excellent hitters through at least age 32.
Due to his age, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Prince receive a contract that approaches or eclipses that of Ryan Howard’s. Prince is not worth that kind of money. Even if we’re generous and claim that teams are paying $4 million dollars for one Win Above Replacement (it’s more like $3.5M), Prince is worth about $21 million dollars right now. Given that his fielding will likely decline and is already poor (-6.2 UZR/150, -7 +/- per year last 3 years), Prince’s value is probably that of a 5.5 win player at the most.
Even if he doesn’t decline over the life of a 5-year contract and we don’t account for any lost time due to injury or attrition or anything, that puts Prince’s value at around $110 million over 5 years. Prince will likely receive a longer contract with much more guaranteed money.
With Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo already locked up, there likely just simply isn’t enough money around to re-sign Prince. Even if there was, he probably isn’t worth it. It’s going to hurt, but the Brewers should just take the massive trade haul Prince brings next offseason or next July (or possibly even this July) and move on. He’s not worth the money. It’s not because Milwaukee is a small market team. It’s because Prince’s production won’t match up with the contract.