Unwise to invest in declining Howard 

April, 26, 2010
The contract extension the Phillies gave Ryan Howard made me laugh when I first heard about it. If you sign a player two years before he hits free agency, you're supposed to get a discount. Instead, the Phillies paid a premium, giving Howard more money to cover years when he won't produce nearly enough value to justify the salary.

Howard is a good hitter, a mediocre-at-best defender, and has shown signs of decline for two years now, especially against left-handed pitching. Howard ranked 28th among MLB hitters in WAR in 2009, 63rd in 2008, and 38th in 2007. Even if we just look at his bat, ignoring position and defense for the moment, he ranked 18th in MLB in 2009. The Phillies just handed him the second-highest average annual salary in the game, but he's not the second-best position player in the game, or the fifth best, or even in the top 20. He's not even the best player on his own team -- that would be second baseman Chase Utley, who'll barely make half of what Howard earns in 2013, the last year of Utley's current deal.

Furthermore, Howard's future value is not headed up -- it's headed down. Hitters peak at or shortly after age 27, and while some hold their value for a few years after that, most hitters decline at some point in their 30s. And Howard's a good bet to decline faster than the norm, because he contributes no defensive value, isn't a good athlete, and is already showing deterioration in his performance. He'll always have raw power, but over the next few years you'll see that power show up in games when he gets a mistake.

Keith Law

ESPN Senior Writer