Criticism of a contract at the time it’s signed is easy but the power of hindsight puts them into greater perspective and diminishes the impact.
Ryan Howard’s contract extension looked atrocious when he signed it because it was done so far in advance (almost 2 years) of his potential free agency and the market was going to be flush with other, better options—Pujols and Fielder among them.
Howard’s extension begins this season and, if he were a free agent this winter and signed it, the criticism for his representatives would be loud and endless.
5-years and $125 million?
Fielder is 4 1/2 years younger than Howard and is a more productive hitter, but they’re in the same realm and Fielder received 9-years and $214 million.
Of course, in reality, the deals are pretty much the same thing. But agents don’t want to hear about age and other factors when hawking their players to the highest bidders. Fans and analysts with an agenda don’t want to hear about the breakdown of the dollars equating identically. They’ll focus on $214 million vs $125 million as the common denominator even if it’s not so common.
The final number is the way they keep score in spite of it being inaccurate and twisted.
Pujols is another story.
He received the $240 million contract from the Angels—a contract that will pay him $30 million on 2021 at age 41—coming off of his worst season in the big leagues. In fairness, Pujols’s worst season still landed him fifth in the NL MVP voting in a season in which his team won the World Series, but that doesn’t alter the fact that it was his worst season.
As much as Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is lambasted for the way he lavishes long-term contracts on his players, signs free agents and has gutted the farm system to try and win immediately, I’m starting to think he’s savvier than any of us realize.
The market was going to be stacked with first baseman this winter. Had Amaro waited Howard out, Howard might’ve wanted a contract commensurate with Pujols—not close to what Pujols received, but certainly not half the guaranteed money that Pujols received either.
For Howard, he got paid, is staying in one place for essentially his whole career and the Phillies didn’t have to enter into protracted and contentious negotiations to keep Howard or consider alternatives.
It’s idiotic to savage the contract based on Howard’s torn Achilles tendon suffered—adding injury to insult—when he made the last out in the Phillies’ NLDS loss to the Cardinals. This isn’t a degenerative injury to a joint that was known to be a potential issue before he signed; it was a freak occurrence that could happen walking down a flight of stairs or getting out of bed. It happened and it’s no one’s fault.
The simplicity that outsiders place on running a club is astounding. To believe that front office people are “stupid” because they make a decision that some disagree with is the height of arrogance and I’ve done it myself.
Perhaps both sides weighed the pros and cons and made the conscious decision to avert what happened with the Cardinals and Pujols where a negotiation that was fait accompli (“Pujols isn’t going to leave the Cardinals”—something I also said repeatedly) and turned out to be completely wrong.
Putting a financial value on a player in an open market is a fruitless endeavor. Few teams stick to a stated budget if they have a choice and as Fielder and Pujols proved, there will always be that one owner who has a reason to spend a perceived loony amount of cash to get the player he wants. The best a GM can do is to make his recommendations to his bosses, come to conclusions of the best way to move forward and deal with the fallout if it fails or accept the accolades if it works. No matter how many people try to find a way to calculate what a player is “worth”, it has little to do with what he actually winds up getting.
Market dictates salary. Not the other way around.