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Is Ryan Howard's Contract The 'Worst Of All Time?'

By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – At this point, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who will defend Ryan Howard's five-year, $125 million contract extension. Regardless of his previous production, most will agree that the contract was a mistake, and is sort of a "gift that keeps on giving" mistake, in that it will be around for several more years.

Jonah Keri of Grantland, who has been very critical of Ruben Amaro and the Phillies, and rightly so in my opinion, wrote prior to this season that Ryan Howard's contract was the third worst in baseball.

Now, with Howard out for 6-8 weeks as he recovers from knee surgery, someone is saying that the deal is even worse than that.

Dan Szymborski of ESPN.COM writes today that Howard's contract is the worst of all time. Even worse than Alex Rodriguez's giant deal with the Yankees.

Using ZIPS, a system for projecting future performance of baseball players, Dan Szymborski looked at what Ryan Howard's performance would look like in every year of his current contract. It gets ugly from the start.

The closest comparisons to past MLB players to Howard were Carlos Pena, Richie Sexson, Greg Luzinski, Jim Gentile, Mo Vaughn and Cecil Fielder. All decent players in their day, but none aged well, especially past the age of 32 (Howard is 33).

The scariest part of all of it, is that ZIPS projected a sharp delcine for Howard even without the current injury Howard suffered.

In a 2013 Philadelphia environment, ZiPS projected Howard's 2013 season at .243/.333/.487 when his deal was signed, a little less batting average and a little more power than his current line, but not a dramatic difference and certainly not super-stardom. Before the 2011 season, the 2013 projection had dropped to .241/.325/.472; fast-forward another year and his 2013 projection was .246/.328/.476; and before this season, he was projected to hit .242/.325/.463.

In other words, Howard's 2013 performance is not a nasty surprise, but exactly what you would expect from a one-dimensional slugger in his early 30s in the middle of a normal decline phase for a player of his type.

Dan Szymborski writes that the Ryan Howard contract is a "total loss," and using projected WAR, will cost the Phillies a loss of $94 million, worse than the projected loss of Rodriguez's $88 million or Albert Pujols' $90 million.

"If the Phillies are going to do in 2014 what the Red Sox have done in 2013 and have their own renaissance, it's going to require a drastic change in organizational thinking -- and it's going to require plenty of cash," Szymborski writes.  "If such a change is to happen, moving on from the executive that got the Phillies into this position and continues to not show an understanding of either the position the Phillies are in or how they've arrived there, is a good place to start. If the Howard injury doesn't give the Phillies a ready-made PR excuse to start selling, something's rotten in the city of Philadelphia."

Ryan Howard produced some amazing seasons, and some amazing memories for the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans. Even if he returns healthy, it appears that those sort of memories are well in the past. The worst part of all of it is that it's something that it appears the Phillies should have seen coming.

It's not Howard's fault, he is who he is. None of this is due to a lack of dedication or effort. The Phillies front office on the other hand, is a different story.

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