Ryan Howard Makes More Money Than You: Is He Worth $125 Million Dollars?

Ryan Howard won't have to settle for $5 dollar footlongs with his massive new contract.

No, he doesn’t work for Goldman-Sachs, but Ryan Howard is still making a killing in the down economy. The Phillies star slugger signed a 5 year/$125 million dollar contract yesterday to stay in Philadelphia through 2016. The contract also includes a $23 million dollar club option for 2017 which would push the total value of the deal to nearly $150 million–making him the second highest paid player in baseball per season behind only Alex Rodriguez.  

Though Howard got a late start to his career (he didn’t reach the majors until age 25 with Jim Thome at first in Philadelphia), the burly lefty has done nothing but hit since, averaging 49.5 home runs and 143 RBI’s over the past four seasons. Howard captured the NL MVP in 2006 on the strength of a .313-58 HR-149 campaign, and while his average has dipped since that year, he has proven to be one of the most consistent power producers in all of baseball.  

The Phillies were eager to keep the face of their franchise in red pinstripes even though he wasn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season, perhaps fueled by an offseason rumor that the team had considered trading Howard to the Cardinals for Albert Pujols. Both Philadelphia and St. Louis denied that any trade talks had occurred, but the Phillies needed to prove they were committed to Howard, and did so by making him a very rich man. Is the big first baseman worth $25 million a year?  

Yes and no.  

There’s no denying that Howard is one of the best run producers in the game, and the signing is a good PR move because he’s a fan favorite, but Howard is certainly not without his flaws in the field and at the plate. The 6-4, 255 lbs. Howard has worked hard to become a passable first baseman, but is still below average at the position and would be better suited as a designated hitter in the American League. There are also concerns that his weight will become an issue in the latter stage of the contract as Howard will be 36 when the deal runs out. He has worked hard to stay in game shape, including losing 25 pounds during the offseason, but historically players of his size and skill set don’t age well. 

What the Phillies are really paying Howard for are his charismatic personality, moonshot home runs and clutch RBI’s—all of which mask some glaring weaknesses at the plate. Howard has averaged 191 strikeouts in his four full seasons and hasn’t posted an OPS over 1.000 since his MVP season of 2006. He is a .225 career hitter against left-handed pitchers and hasn’t shown the ability to improve in that area (only .200 so far in 2010). When the home runs stop flying off the bat, and they will, Howard’s contract will look like an albatross for Philadelphia. 

Were the Phillies smart to sign Howard to a new contract? Yes. Were the Phillies smart to sign Howard to a five-year/$125 million dollar contract? No. 

In other news, the St. Louis Cardinals are holding a combination bake and yard sale this weekend to help raise money for the ever-growing Albert Pujols free agent contract…

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Major League Baseball and Its Players Continue to Drop the Ball: Cincinnati’s Volquez Tests Positive for PED’s.

Edison Volquez's suspension won't cost him anything more than money.

Another mysterious fertility drug, another failed PED test and another black eye for baseball and its players. Yeah, it sure seems like the sport has this steroids issue under control.

Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday that Cincinnati Reds’ starting pitcher Edinson Volquez tested positive for a banned substance during Spring Training and would be suspended for 50 games, effective immediately.

The catch? Volquez was already on the disabled list and unlikely to return to game action until mid-season. His suspension runs out June 15th—a date sooner than the Reds had anticipated Volquez being ready to pitch for their big league club. As it stands, Volquez will be able to continue his rehabilitation from elbow surgery while serving his “suspension” and will forfeit around $130,000 of his salary for the season. Somehow, I think Volquez will find a way to squeak by with the other $300,000 he is due to make in 2010.

Even his own teammates were stunned by the loophole in baseball’s punishment system. Fellow pitcher Bronson Arroyo reacted to the situation in an interview on Tuesday saying,  “I’m actually surprised they’re letting him do that.” Yeah, so is everyone else Bronson.

I’m not even mad at Volquez for using a banned substance…I’m mad at baseball for a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime. Despite a supposedly tougher stance on steroids, Volquez will miss exactly zero game-time for failing a drug test. Who is that fair to?

In the words of TV’s greatest lawyer Jackie Chiles: “Outrageous! Egregious! Preposterous!”

Preposterous indeed.

Viva La Vidro Visits Safeco Field: Scenes from a Seattle Mariners Home Opener

Despite the pleadings of my closest advisors and body guards that I stay in my underground bunker with Tupac, I ignored their advice and decided to attend the Mariners’ home opener on Monday knowing full well that I would be mobbed by adoring fans at every turn. When you reach the level of fame that I have as a two-time A.S.B. President and the second best 14-15 year-old swimmer in Central Washington, you become accustomed to countless autograph and photo requests. While I realize that it comes with the territory, the constant attention can make going out in public quite difficult, and with over 40,000 people in attendance at Safeco it seemed destined to be a long day.

As it turns out the fans were much more interested in the game than they were in the author of a mildly popular blog and I was able to enjoy the game in relative peace. The M’s really rose to the occasion with a total of two hits as a team and were blanked by the Athletics 4-0. The highlight of an otherwise dull game was Randy Johnson throwing out the first pitch (the Big Unit was well received despite his tumultuous exit from the team) and then being joined on the field by Seattle legends Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson and Edgar Martinez. An otherwise reliable camera wasn’t able to capture any photos from the pre-game pageantry but I did manage to snap a few shots of the game action. They are as follows:

Ichiro’s slow start to the season has been a major source of the Mariners scoring troubles. He went 0-4 in this game and blamed the alignment of the planets for the hitless home opener, cursing Mercury for ever being born.

Ryan Rowland-Smith had a no-hitter through 5 innings, but the Hypenator struggled with his control all day, and was eventually undone by his own wildness. Seattle will need more consistency from him moving forward, although he made it up to the fans with an acoustic version of “Down Under” after the game.

Ken Griffey Jr. was understandably nervous with me in the stands and it showed as he struck out in his first two at-bats. I apologized after the game for being a distraction and Junior promised he would never let me down again. After that we went to Dave and Buster’s to play ski-ball…he won.

It only took one game for the Safeco Field faithful to start booing Milton Bradley for his play in left field. Thankfully, he didn’t respond with a middle finger as he did in Texas, though I’m sure he wanted to. Has there ever been a player in sports whose name is a worse fit for their personality? When I think Milton Bradley I think fun. When I see the Milton Bradley that plays baseball I think dark and troubled. If his name was Gregory Grumppot it would be a total non-issue.

 Junior thought about stealing home but his hamstrings decided against it.

The game ended on a long fly ball that was just a little short. Let’s hope that’s not a harbinger of what’s to come or my World Series prediction will look awful silly.

Th-th-tha-that’s all folks! Hope to head out to a few more games this summer. Stay tuned to Viva la Vidro for all things not worth being published elsewhere.

David Ortiz, Seeking to Prove He’s More Insecure Than Most High School Girls, Lashes Out at Reporters Following Loss.

A meltdown following the second game of 2010 spells a long season for Ortiz.

Well that didn’t take long. 

Following a 6-4 loss to New York on Tuesday night the Boston Red Sox found themselves sitting at 1-1 and on pace for a .500 season; clearly it was time to hit the panic button. Former slugger and current decrepit designated hitter David Ortiz, who went hitless in the first two games of the season, was asked by reporters following the game whether he was concerned about his slow start after last year’s disastrous meltdown (Ortiz hit .185 with one HR and 18 RBI’s last April/May). Apparently the question struck a nerve, and Big Papi responded with Dickens-like eloquence: 

“Good…you guys wait ’til [expletive] happens, then you can talk [expletive]. Two [expletive] games, and already you [expletives] are going crazy. What’s up with that, man? [Expletive]. [Expletive] 160 games left. That’s a [expletive]. One of you [expletives] got to go ahead and hit for me.” 

Even if I can’t correctly identify all of the expletives listed above (s-word, s-word, f-ing, mother-effers, f-word, f-ing, s-word ton, mother-effers?) the gist of Ortiz’s comments is quite clear: don’t judge me by two games. 

He’s right of course. Seven at-bats is an extremely small sample size, and if Ortiz played in San Diego or Kansas City this minor slump would be a non-issue. Unfortunately Ortiz doesn’t play for the Royals, he plays for the Red Sox in one of the largest media markets in the sport. As a player in New York or Boston you’re under the microscope 24/7, which Ortiz should realize entering his 8th season with the Red Sox.

If Ortiz had just brushed off the questions, or laughed at his own expense, it’s unlikely we would still be talking about his slow start today. But by lashing out at reporters, Big Papi revealed what many in the media speculated last year…that the end is near. Ortiz is no longer the 40-50 home run threat he was when he first arrived in Boston and unless he rights the ship soon, both physically and mentally, Big Papi’s days in Beantown might be numbered with Mike Lowell waiting in the wings.

Love ’em or hate ’em the Red Sox sure know how to make things interesting.

Viva La Vidro’s 2010 Baseball Forecast: Cloudy With a Chance of Mariners.

Say hey to Jason Heyward, the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year and next Ken Griffey Jr.

I know what you’re thinking: “It’s Opening Day and Bud hasn’t even picked his award winners for the upcoming season yet. How am I supposed to know what’s going on and who’s taking home the hardware without his keen insight and witty commentary? Is it finally time for Sidney Ponson to capture a Cy Young? Does anyone like Derek Jeter? Can Casey Kotchman slug his way to an MVP? He doesn’t work fulltime, what’s his excuse this time–his computer died?”    

Well, my computer did pass away, and I would appreciate a little sensitivity during this difficult time (Bud’s computer was five-years-old). Despite this overwhelming obstacle that would cripple most bloggers, I realize my reader(s) would be ill prepared for the 2010 season without me, and that is a responsibility I take very seriously. So before I get emotional thinking about my computer again, here are the players poised for greatness this year:    

NL Rookie of the Year–Jason Heyward (Atlanta Braves OF): If card sales are any indication (just take a gander at his stuff on eBay) Heyward is the real deal. The 20-year-old slugger has been compared to everyone from Ken Griffey Jr. to Fred McGriff, and the Braves would be more than happy if Heyward turned into a “Kred McGriffey Jr.” hybrid. It’s amazing that 13 other teams passed over him in the 2007 draft because Heyward has a once-every-decade skill set, including light-pole power and tremendous plate discipline (especially for such a young player). He’ll start the year in rightfield for the Braves after a strong spring and should run away with the award.    

The Orioles are confident that Matusz can lead them out of the AL East cellar.

AL Rookie of the Year–Brian Matusz (Baltimore Orioles SP): Matusz is set to become the most badass bird since Frightful of My Side of the Mountain fame. The 23-year-old lefty breezed through the minor leagues (11-2, 1.91 ERA, 0.906 WHIP) and showed plenty of talent in a brief stint with the Orioles (5-2, 4.63 ERA, 38 K’s in 44 innings) last season. Alongside Chris Tillman, David Hernandez and Brad Bergesen, Matusz is a major part of Baltimore’s rebuilding project, and despite his age will be counted on as a leader of the pitching staff. Matusz has a four pitch repertoire and a deceptive delivery that makes it difficult for hitters to track his fastball. He also shows a good command of the strike zone and has the ability and makeup to be a top of the rotation starter for the next decade. The Orioles will need Matusz to be as good as advertised if they hope to climb the treacherous mountain known as the AL East.   

NL Cy Young–Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies): While there is no shortage of premier pitchers in the National League (Tim Lincecum, Johan Santana, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, etc.), Halladay should have the best season of his career in 2010 after moving from the power packed AL East to the offensively challenged NL East (no offense Mets’ fans…okay plenty of offense actually). Supported by one of the game’s best lineups Doc Holliday should have no trouble winning games and posting a sub 2.50 ERA to go along with around 200 K’s–more than enough to wrestle the award away from Lincecum.    

AL Cy Young–Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners): King Felix was nearly unstoppable in 2009 (19-5, 2.49 ERA, 217 K’s) and only missed out on the award because of an unreal season from Zack Grienke. With Cliff Lee backing him up (after he gets off the DL) and a slightly improved lineup, Hernandez should be even better in 2010 and has a solid chance to capture his first 20-win season. The key this year for Felix will be cutting down on his walks (71 free passes) and wild pitches (a league leading 17); if he can do that, the King might just be the best pitcher in all of baseball.   

Troy Tulowitzki and the Rockies are poised for big things in 2010.

NL MVP–Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies SS): Tulowitzki finished fifth in NL MVP voting last season, which is astounding considering how slowly he and the Rockies started in 2009 (.200 BA in April, .242 in May). The sweet swinging shortstop is a wiz in the field and has a desirable combination of power and speed at the plate (30 HR’s/20 SB’s in 2009). More importantly than his numbers though, is Tulo’s leadership in the Rockies clubhouse, where he is the unquestioned captain of the team. If the Rockies can build on their strong finish last year Colorado should have no trouble overtaking the weakened Dodgers in the NL West, and if Tulowitzki plays like he did from June until the end of the 2009 season, the MVP will be his to lose.   

AL MVP–Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay Rays 3B): Despite the Rays’ struggles in 2009, Longoria put together a quietly solid season in his sophomore campaign, hitting .281 with 33 HR’s and 113 RBI’s while capturing the Gold Glove at third base. Still only 24-years-old, Longoria has plenty of room for improvement at the plate, and he’s certainly capable of smacking 40 HR’s if he can cut down on his strikeouts. Tampa Bay has one of the most talented rosters in baseball and have been picked by many baseball pundits to take the AL East or Wild Card, thanks in no small part to Longoria’s continued maturation as a player. Look for big numbers in 2010 from the Rays’ third baseman as Evan finally becomes America’s most popular Longoria.   

World Series: Seattle over Colorado (4-3)–It’s no crazier than a Duke-Butler final, and really, could it end any other way? Well it could, but I don’t want it to, and I think baseball takes my wants and needs very seriously.

From King of the Court to Lord of the Diamond: Lebron James Signs 5-Year Contract with Pittsburgh Pirates.

Pittsburgh fans were initially stunned by the LeBron signing, but most agreed the move was a slam dunk.

Apparently LeBron James really does want to be “like Mike“.   

In a move that sent shock waves through two sports and broke the heart of every New York Knicks’ fan, the Pittsburgh Pirates reported Thursday that they had reached a contract agreement with basketball superstar Lebron James. Though exact terms of the agreement have not yet been made available, sources close to the situation speculate the contract to be in the neighborhood of 5 years/$200 million dollars. Additional terms of the deal allow LeBron to finish the season with the Cavaliers before reporting to the Pirates Double-A affiliate at the beginning of July, with additional work scheduled in the Arizona Fall League.   

Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington released the following statement regarding LeBron to the AP:   

“Obviously we’re thrilled to have a player of LeBron’s caliber here in Pittsburgh and we really feel that he is going to be a difference maker for the Pirates. He’s got nothing left to prove on the basketball court and athletes with his skill set don’t come along often; it was a no-brainer for us as an organization. The plan is to have LeBron patrolling centerfield for us fulltime in 2011 with Andrew McCutchen shifting to left. With his size, speed and vertical leap it’s hard to imagine any homeruns leaving the yard against our pitching staff. We’ve been working him out over the past few months and he has shown the ability to hit for power to all fields and with his length it won’t take more than a few steps and a slide to steal bases. The Pittsburgh Pirates are turning over a new leaf as a franchise and it starts today with the signing of Lebron James…I just can’t wait to see him on the field.”   

Huntington has raised quite a few eyebrows as GM of the Pirates by trading away popular players like Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson, but nothing could have prepared the sports world for this stunning move. Message boards and radio shows were quick to criticize the move, calling it a publicity stunt or simply an April Fools joke. Huntington also responded to those comments:   

Michael Jordan never panned out in baseball. Does LeBron have what it takes to save the Pirates?

“LeBron is a world-class athlete and we have no doubt that he will be an All-Star outfielder as soon as next season. Obviously we realized that this move would be met with some skepticism, and that’s fine, because it won’t be long before other teams discover what they missed out on. We would not have made this move unless we were 100% convinced as an organization that LeBron would help the Pirates win a World Series. Sometimes in sports it’s necessary to think outside of the box, and with 17 straight losing seasons, it was evident that our franchise needed a radical change to reverse our fortunes. LeBron was already the next Michael Jordan and now it’s time for him to become the next Ken Griffey Jr. He’s got the chance to be a very special player for a long, long time.”  

LeBron James could not immediately be reached for comment but tweeted to his followers that: “Cavs gonna take da Finals this year n its time 4 me to rule another sport. I already own football now its on 2 baseball” and also “@BillSimmons I ain’t like Mike cause I chose to leave da league, I didn’t gamble my way out. LOL!” 

While that may be the case, Pirates’ fans had better hope that LeBron has better luck in baseball than Jordan (career .202 hitter in the minors). With $200 million dollars invested in just one player, Pittsburgh is betting the farm on LeBron leading them out of the cellar and back into the World Series. Of course it he doesn’t, what’s one more losing season for the longest suffering franchise in sports?