Monday, February 09, 2009

Fooled Me More Than Once

It can be reasonably concluded I don't have my finger on Ryan Howard's pulse. The big man fooled me and, I presume, a lot of other people when he signed a three year, $54 million contract with the Phillies yesterday. The caption beneath his picture on the front page of today's Inquirer read For the next three seasons, the Phillies’ Ryan Howard won’t have the specter of arbitration hanging over him. Somehow, the "specter" of signing increasingly stratospheric one year contracts didn't seem all the onerous to me, which is why I assumed Howard would never agree to a multi-year deal. That and the sometimes rancorous undertones flowing from his family suggested Howard would "settle" for somewhere between $14 and $18 million this year and, depending on his production the coming season, another hefty raise each of the following two years leading up to free agency. I must assume $18 million a year for three years looked pretty good to him. It sure looks good to the rest of us I dare say. I must also conclude he likes his teammates and their chances to contend if not repeat.

The deal is a shrewd one by today's skewed standards and a triumph for new GM Ruben Amaro. Howard was going to earn big money this coming season; of this there was no doubt. At age 29 he is probably entering his prime. Given his body type it is difficult to know with any certainty how long those prime years will last; however, three years is sufficient time for him and the Phillies to find out. Amaro deftly avoided the potential albatross of a longer-term deal while concluding an off-season in which he further cemented the very solid foundation of the team he inherited by signing most of its core to multi-year deals.

Despite all of these positive developments, the Phillies enter the season with a few serious question marks. Chief among these is a lineup that is way too left-handed and a bullpen that is way too right-handed. Whatever your cup of tea, old school or sabremetrics, those imbalances must be addressed. The other question mark regards the starting rotation. Though well-balanced between righties and lefties, it's ultimate success will rely on which Brett Myers shows up, how well Joe Blanton does over the course of a full season, how much more gas Jamie Moyer has in his tank and the continued health of ace Cole Hamels.

The only other major worry looming large is the recovery of Chase Utley from serious off-season surgery. The Phillies cannot win without a healthy Utley. Still, one has to like the chances for this club.

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