Rich Hofmann: Ruben likes Howard pact even better now

Ryan Howard's 5-year extension is short-term compared to Albert Pujols' and Prince Fielder's deals.
Ryan Howard's 5-year extension is short-term compared to Albert Pujols' and Prince Fielder's deals. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: January 25, 2012

WYOMISSING - Word arrived during the afternoon that the Detroit Tigers had made Prince Fielder an emperor - 9 years, $214 million, all hail. Weeks before that, it had been 10 years and $240 million from the Los Angeles Angels for Albert Pujols. Meanwhile, starting this season, Ryan Howard and his recovering Achilles' will begin his 5-year, $125 million deal.

All of which leaves Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. feeling, well, how?

"I'm kind of happy," he said. "Really happy. Because if I would have had to put an 8- or 9-year deal on Howard's deal right now, that would be a little disconcerting. Right now, we have Howard for the next 5 years. I kind of like that idea rather than having to do an 8- or 9- or 10-year deal.

"You can say what you want about Ryan Howard and how he stacks up against those guys, but there's not too many people who, over the last several years, have had this kind of production - and he's right there in the mix with those guys."

The contracts rank in this order: Pujols, Fielder, Howard. This makes sense, because that is how the players rank in most people's minds. What was an eyebrow-raising, market-setting contract extension when Howard signed it a couple of years ago looks a little bit different now that the market has played out.

Howard still has the highest average per year, but the total financial commitment is much smaller. That is just the numbers and really is not open to argument.

But this is: Howard's future.

His decline over the last two seasons has been dutifully noted. Again, the realities of the marketplace do not make Howard's a bad contract. But if we already have seen his best days, the deal will have been too much - and if we are witnessing the start of a boulder gathering speed down a steep hill, the deal will be a disaster.

So have we seen his best days? Amaro insists we have not, and points to the fact that while he was in a hotel ballroom last night eating banquet food, Howard was in Clearwater, meeting with Phils manager Charlie Manuel and talking about altering his hitting approach in 2012, whenever 2012 begins for him following Achilles' surgery in October.

"Ryan's the kind of guy - and I guess this is one of the reasons why we signed him to two long-term deals in a row - is that even when he signed a multiyear deal, he was still working very hard," Amaro said. "He's gotten himself into better shape than he's ever been in. There's always a fear that guys will just get complacent, and that's not what we're going to get out of Ryan.

"I know Ryan's desire to be successful remains very strong. I know there was nobody more upset about how things ended the last couple of years than he is. And so, I think he's going to be as productive a player as he has in the past, and even more so at times.

"There are some adjustments I think that he understands," he said. "There are some things he wants to do, adjustmentwise, offensively. I think Charlie and GG [hitting coach Greg Gross] and others will influence him. I think he's open to that. He's down there with Charlie right now, discussing just that. Hopefully he gets back to the point where he's making more consistent contact and doing the things that he's done to be successful so far."

Amaro talked about how Howard hit .300 once (.313 in 2006) and there is no reason he cannot do it again (unless, of course, his skills are eroding). He talked about how Howard sometimes struggled, in his opinion, because there wasn't always enough protection for him in the lineup when Chase Utley was hurt and before Hunter Pence was acquired last July.

"Not having the protection kind of makes Ryan feel like he has to carry the load," Amaro said. "Hopefully, having guys be healthy and be on the field will take some of that heat off of him and just allow him to be Ryan rather than to be something more than that.

"I know he has a desire to have success and to win, and sometimes that can get in the way. I saw it happen with Pat Burrell a lot."

Burrell never lived up to his big contract. With Howard - and Pujols and Fielder, for that matter - the clock begins ticking in April.

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