The Phillies’ Ryan Howard signed a five-year extension worth $125 million, making him only the second player in league history — along with Alex Rodriguez — to average $25 million annually on a multiyear contract. For the Padres’ Adrian Gonzalez and the Brewers’ Prince Fielder, that could mean similarly big things down the road.
Gonzalez, 27, and Fielder, 25, were born two years and one day apart. They are three and five years younger than Howard, respectively. Both are prolific sluggers, with the ability to produce 40 or more home runs and an OPS well over .900 every year.
According to FanGraphs’ valuations, Howard was worth 4.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) last season, producing $22 million in value for the Phillies. Meanwhile, Gonzalez gave the Padres 6.5 WAR, good for $29.1 million. Fielder was the most valuable of the three, providing Milwaukee with 6.8 WAR or $30.4 million.
In other words, Gonzalez and Fielder are virtually equal in value. Gonzalez is two years older, but has a body type that is more likely to age well than Fielder’s portly frame. It’s fair to assume that each could net a six- to eight-year deal worth at least $25 million per season.
That’s horrible news for the Padres and Brewers, two relatively small-market franchises who simply can’t afford to devote the majority of their payroll to a single player. In fact, 24 or more of MLB’s 30 franchises likely will be priced out of the market for Gonzalez and Fielder — not to mention Albert Pujols, who also is scheduled to hit free agency after the 2011 season and could become baseball’s first $30 million-per-year man.
Out of baseball’s wealthiest franchises in terms of payroll — the Yankees, Mets, Cubs, Phillies, Tigers, and Red Sox — three are already locked into big money deals with first basemen.
The Phillies just extended Howard. The Yankees own Mark Teixeira through 2016. And the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera until 2015.
Additionally, the Cubs owe a combined $50 million to Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster through the 2012 season, and thus are unlikely to find a way to fit a $25 million per year contract into their budget.
That could give the Red Sox their pick of the litter during the winter of 2011-12, as GM Theo Epstein looks to restock a lineup that by then is likely to be without David Ortiz, J.D. Drew and perhaps Victor Martinez.
The Red Sox also may now be in a more advantageous position when it comes to potential trade discussions with the Padres and Brewers, because those teams will be more inclined to glean whatever they can from their stars before they escape in free agency.
Hence, the fallout of Ryan Howard’s new deal with the Phillies is likely to reach far beyond the City of Brotherly Love, and could very well bring a coveted slugger to Boston — perhaps as soon as the coming summer.
Only time will tell if the Red Sox pursue and acquire Gonzalez, Fielder or even Pujols. But they almost certainly will have the opportunity to do so.