This happened a couple days ago, but the Phillies signed 1B Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million extension. Howard is certainly a great player, but already questions are popping up in baseball circles, wondering why the Phillies would pay so much money to a 30-year old 1B/DH type who, despite hard work and Subway, is still a little overweight. ESPN’s Buster Olney asks these questions and raises a good point: if the Phillies had to put Howard on the trade market today, how many offers would they get?
For the answer, let’s ask the Cleveland Indians.
Now, to be fair, Travis Hafner’s four-year, $57 million dollar extension is nowhere near as outrageous as Howard’s deal. And you can make the case Hafner was an even better hitter than Howard (not as many home runs, but way better OBP and OPS numbers pre-extension). But the Indians, unfortunately, are a small market team, and can’t afford to make the same big-money mistakes as Philadelphia. And so when Hafner was hurt and has struggled to recapture his swing, the Indians are stuck with his albatross of a contract around their neck, unable to get rid of him.
The Indians should have asked themselves, if we were to put Hafner on the trade market immediately after signing him to the extension, what offers would we recieve for a 30-year-old who can’t play the field? I think we all know the pickings would have been pretty slim.
I never thought that contract would look this bad. If you remember, the Tribe had three impending free agents in Jake Westbrook, CC Sabathia and Hafner. The Tribe knew they couldn’t keep all three, and Hafner and Westbrook were more than willing to stay for the money. This is not a “The Tribe should have signed CC instead!” post. Sabathia refused to re-sign with the Indians because they wouldn’t guarantee him enough years on the contract. Name the last pitcher with a six or seven year deal that earned every last bit of his contract. Pretty hard, isn’t it? So I don’t blame the Indians for that.
I can, however, second-guess the Hafner signing. No matter how healthy you think a guy is, it’s never smart to sign someone who’s only good at one thing to a long, fat contract, because said person may suddenly realize that he can’t hit anymore, and suddenly you owe $37.5 through 2013 to Travis Hafner.
Hafner still has time to redeem himself, and his contract. But it’s looking less and less likely that he will ever find his stroke again. And since they refused to listen to the Indians’ warning, the Phillies better hope nothing ever happens to Ryan Howard. And let’s hope the next team with a one-dimensional slugger doesn’t continue this terrible trend.