The Phillies and Ryan Howard are beginning yet another contract dance as the slugger is poised to enter the arbitration process for the first time. Of course the big question is whether or not the Phillies and Howard will avoid the arbitration hearing and iron out a multi-year contract. Though he isn't eligible to become a free agent until after the 2011 season, Howard is expected to fetch at least $7 million in salary in 2008 if a long-term deal isn't brokered.
That's where it gets fun because it's not as if the Phillies don't want to have Ryan Howard play for them for a long time. Why wouldn't they? In his first two full seasons in the Majors, Howard smashed 105 homers, including 47 last year when he missed a most of the month of May. In 2006 he smashed the club single-season home run record on his way to winning the MVP Award. Kids wear Phillies shirts with his No. 6 on the back and everything seems to come to a halt at the ballpark whenever Howard comes to the plate.
Simply, Howard is one of the biggest reasons why folks pay money to go out to the ballpark.
When one considers that the Phillies signed Chase Utley to a multi-year deal worth $85 million in his year of arbitration eligibility, it would make sense that Howard would get a big offer, too.
There's a big difference between players like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. For instance, if he can stay away from accidents like running into his centerfielder, getting in the way of inside pitches before they break his hand and avoid overtraining at Athletes' Performance with Mark Verstegen, Utley should be able to play well into his late 30s and early 40s. With five years already under his belt before he turned 29, Utley looks to be putting together a long career. A seven-year contract could be a bargain for the Phillies.
On the other hand, guys like Howard don't last as long. Already 28, Howard is seemingly in the prime years for a big, slugging type of player. The truth is the big fellas just don't last that long - especially if they have to play in the field. Baseball history is littered with guys like Howard who were washed up before their 35th birthday. Greg Luzinski was washed up at 33; Boog Powell at 34; Mo Vaughn at 34; John Kruk at 33; Kent Hrbek at 34... the list goes on and on. The one big guy who has lasted a long time is Frank Thomas and that comes in part because he's played just 36 games in the field since 2001, and missed nearly 2½ seasons because of injuries.
Need more? Baseball Prospectus suggested that Howard could be peaking in its 2007 yearbook:
Historically, players like Howard, big-bodied guys with limited defensive skills such as Mo Vaughn and Boog Powell, tended to have high but brief peak periods. Their legs just couldn't carry that much mass for very long, and around 30 their defense plummeted, their playing time dropped due to nagging injuries, and their singles dried up and disappeared. The Phillies should have a three-year window in which they can expect this kind of production from Howard, but should not plan beyond that.
Based on how the contract-negotiations are going - word is Howard and the Phillies are $3 million apart - the Phillies are not doing anything more than they have to.
The good thing about baseball is that anytime you need to take a day or two away, the game will be there when you get back. Baseball is not like the second part of a movie or an episodic television show where a person needs to keep up with the back story in order to enjoy it. Sure, it helps, but it’s not really necessary.
It is just baseball after all.
So after taking a few days away from following the baseball team to travel around with my family, it’s pretty easy to jump back in. The Phillies are still fighting to get back to .500, the bullpen is still a question mark and Ryan Howard’s struggles continue when he was sent to the 15-day disabled list with a strained quad and a sore knee.
As the season progresses the Phillies should continue to be a team of streaks and should win more than they lose. The bullpen, unless Pat Gillick can make a deal to get some help, will remain a sore spot. And Ryan Howard will continue to have trouble with his knees and legs until he gets in shape.
It’s pretty simple.
Howard, as he says and everyone noticed when he was a minor leaguer, is a big dude. But when he showed up in Clearwater for spring training he was an even bigger dude. Frankly, he looks soft and it’s funny to see him and remember that some speculated that he could have used performance-enhancing drugs during his breakout season last year. If he was taking steroids, it was pointed out then; he was taking the wrong kind.
Certainly baseball is littered with the failed careers of players who simply couldn’t keep in shape. Along those lines, many more careers were cut short for the same reason. In that regard, John Kruk comes to mind. Greg Luzinski, too. Mo Vaughn was another slugging first baseman whose injuries seemed rooted in his lack of fitness.
The good folks at Baseball Prospectus took note of Howard’s physique when putting together their annual yearbook in which they surmised that Howard, at 26, could be peaking:
Historically, players like Howard, big-bodied guys with limited defensive skills such as Mo Vaughn and Boog Powell, tended to have high but brief peak periods. Their legs just couldn’t carry that much mass for very long, and around 30 their defense plummeted, their playing time dropped due to nagging injuries, and their singles dried up and disappeared. The Phillies should have a three-year window in which they can expect this kind of production from Howard, but should not plan beyond that.
Mo Vaughn was washed up at 34. Greg Luzinski played his last season when he was 33. John Kruk walked away for a pinch runner after getting a single in a late July game for the Chicago White Sox when he was 34. Their bodies just couldn’t take the rigors of a baseball season any more.
Ryan Howard is a big dude looking for an even bigger paycheck. A good way to get to where he and the Phillies need him to be is to get in shape.
*** Chris Coste took Howard’s place on the roster when he was placed on the disabled list. But unlike last May when Coste’s call-up led to a nearly a full season of MLB service time, don’t expect this stint to last too long. The talk around the club is that Coste will go back to Triple-A Ottawa when Howard is ready.
Then again, no one expected his stay to last too long last year, either.
*** I have a theory that if baseball or soccer were introduced to Americans in 2007 with no prior knowledge of its existence, people would hate it. Baseball, more than any other sport, seems to be one that’s passed down from father to son or whomever – and yes, that’s as close to getting all Field of Dreams on anyone. That crap is just so annoying…
Nevertheless, it’s fair to say that Major League Baseball isn’t exactly a flashpoint with folks involved in the endurance sporting world. In fact, the runners, cyclists and triathletes that I’m friendly with don’t really keep up with more than one of the major sports – typically that one is football or hockey.
To a lot of them, a baseball game is a good way to wile away an afternoon with some junk food and a beer or two following a hard training session.
So when Outside magazine – billed as a periodical “dedicated to covering the people, sports and activities, politics, art, literature, and hardware of the outdoors...” – offered a small feature on a baseball player in its June issue…
The player, of course, is Barry Zito and the feature (an interview) didn’t cover much ground or space. The topics ranged from surfing and how it has helped Zito with his pitching, to meditation and yoga, which Zito is a well-known practitioner of.
Question: You also do yoga and meditate, which has led the baseball press to label you as flaky.
Zito: The most outdoorsy these guys get is playing golf or hunting. So if I play guitar or surf or do yoga, I’m some weirdo. But you have to take it for what it is. Baseball is one of the oldest games in the country. There are definitely stereotypes, but I think we’re breaking through those things.
Given the choice of a DVD of Point Break or The Natural, Zito says he’d take Point Break.
Now that’s weird. The yoga and meditation is hardly anything unoriginal or flaky. It’s smart.
*** I’d love to write much more about the Floyd Landis arbitration hearing, but I’m pacing myself. Interestingly, though, I thought the yellow tie Landis wore to yesterday’s hearing was a nice touch and sent a bit of a message.
Yellow, of course, being the color of jersey the leader (and winner) of the Tour de France wears.
TOMORROW, the American cyclist Floyd Landis, the would-be heir to Lance Armstrong, steps before an arbitration panel in California to rebut the charge that his come-from-behind victory last year in cycling’s most celebrated race was a fraud.
If he loses, Landis will become the first winner in the 103-year history of the Tour de France to be stripped of the victor’s yellow jersey because of doping. The disastrous toll his case has exacted on cycling’s credibility — races canceled for lack of sponsors, teams abandoned by their corporate underwriters, fans staying home — offers a stark picture of what can happen when a sport finally confronts its drug problem in a serious way.
This couldn’t be where baseball is headed, could it?
When Major League Baseball announced before the season that its new drug policy was going to include amphetamines, or "greenies" there was a lot of jokes made at the expense of the players.
"How are they going to finish the season?" some asked.
"What's going to happen to half of the players in the league come September?" others offered.
Well, we're just about to the point of the season where some players hit the proverbial wall (it's a marathon, not a sprint, right?) and I'm even more curious about what affect the new policy will have over the final month of the season.
For the uninitiated, greenies are speed or a synthetic stimulant used to suppress the appetite, control weight, and treat disorders including narcolepsy and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is also used recreationally and for performance enhancement and is illegal without a prescription in most cases.
It's also been a popular drug used by baseball players for the past 50 years. In fact, there are many published stories about the widespread use of greenies in big league clubhouses, including somewhere the team supplied the drugs for the players. According to legend (and Tug McGraw), greenies were the drug of choice amongst the Phillies in the late 1970s and early 1980s, not that this made the Phillies any different from any other team.
All of that aside, there has been no reports of any positive greenie tests in the big leagues this season, and it appears as if the players who were using them have made the shift to other stimulants. Coffee as well as more mainstream energy boosters favored by runners and triathletes are more prevalent in big league clubhouses, though for whatever reason, Red Bull and other so-called energy drinks aren’t as visible as they were in past seasons.
In other words, it seems like the ban on amphetamines has worked.
Hitting the wall Putting the greenie issue aside, it seems as if one Phillie is slowing down. At least that's the way it sounded when I read a few quotes from Mike Lieberthal regarding Brett Myers' latest poor outing against the Nationals on Friday night. According to the irrepressible Dennis Deitch of the Delaware County Daily Times, Lieberthal said:
"He seems a little tired," catcher Mike Lieberthal said of Myers. "The pop isn’t there on his fastball. He has seemed a little tired in his last few starts."
Lieberthal said Myers might be going through a "dead-arm phase." The last time that phrase was used in conversation, closer Tom Gordon was theorizing on his struggles. A few days later, he was shut down and having tests performed on a sore shoulder.
By no means am I suggesting anything about Myers, but based on a quote in a newspaper it sounds as if the big pitcher is getting tired. Perhaps it's Myers' fitness that has caused this downturn? Perhaps Myers might hit the wall in the final month of the season because he isn't in good enough shape?
Remember how Kevin Millwood folded like a cheap tent during the stretch in 2003?