|Picture by Richard Wilkins Jr.|
Now that is my weak, least effective defense of his deal. The reality? The deal sucks. Ruben made an incorrect call and signed a deal early with a player who then not only has declined as a hitter and seems unwilling to adjust, but who also blew out his ankle, can't run to save his life, and now seems to lack power. Howard hasn't been a $25 million a year player since 2009, and probably wasn't then, and honestly Ruben should have waited much longer than early 2010 to give him a payday that kicked in during 2012. Howard's shortfalls were always evident- his strikeouts, his lack of speed and defense, the possibility that he wouldn't age well, and his problems identifying the breaking ball. None of those are new, or even surprising. It's also not shocking that a power hitter in the post-steroids era sees declining power numbers in their 30s. That's how baseball is supposed to work.
Now I write this not knowing if Howard will have some 15 homer bounce-back month at some point, end up at 30 homers, and "justify" his deal to some people, but I'm pretty much ready to write it up as a bad contract. Howard's knees are joining his ankles as bad, and the player's one skill-set, power, is declining. The cake's baked here. The deal is bad. The deal also will continue to exist not just for the rest of 2013, but 2014, 2015, and even 2016. For that matter, his buy-out of $10 million will count against 2017. So what will happen with this?
Well, for some idea of what happens when everything goes wrong on a deal, we can look to Toronto, and one Ricky Romero. The former staff ace is a disaster, even in the minors right now. How bad is it? Romero was just outrighted off of the 40 man roster, and no one picked him up off of waivers because of his five year, $30.1 million deal. So what now? From MLB Trade Rumors:
Looking back one year after that deal was signed, both team and player seemed happy. Now, however, Romero's well-documented struggles make the remainder of the contract look like an unwelcome burden to the Jays. After an abysmal 2012 season and poor spring saw Romero begin the year in the low minors, he was called up for two ill-fated big league starts. The former staff ace allowed five walks, seven hits, and six earned runs over just 4 1/3 innings in those outings, and has continued to struggle since being demoted to Triple-A. With Romero no longer clogging up a roster spot, the team will have little incentive but toremain patient and allow him to try and work his way back to form.Ouch. Now consider this- his whole deal is only $5.1 million more than one year of Howard's average-annual-value. Not a lot of teams will line up to take Howard off waivers, so forget that. Trading him? You'll be paying him, and possibly still getting no prospects. In other words, we're stuck with this, at least for now, and at least for a bit.
Which leaves one possible outcome for fans: hope for the best. Hope that Howard does whatever he necessarily needs to do for his health, to get himself up to at least being a productive player. Sure, we can get mad that he's well paid for it, but we're pretty much stuck with it right now. When I say I don't want to see this team agree to many more bad deals (hence, not re-sign old players), now you can see why.