Big League Stew - MLB

The vaunted first baseman free-agent class of 2012 lost its first member on Monday afternoon when Ryan Howard(notes) signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension to stay with the Phillies. Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the deal includes a limited no-trade clause and a $23 million option for 2017 with a $10 million buyout. 

That sound you just heard was  Albert Pujols(notes), Prince Fielder(notes) and Adrian Gonzalez(notes) calling their banks to see what kind of loan they can get off the news that a slugging 30-year-old first baseman is scheduled to become baseball's highest-paid player not named A-Rod.    

That other sound you heard was the rest of us wondering what the heck Philly's rush is.

Indeed, even if you're not fully convinced it's a dead lock that Howard will turn into David Ortiz(notes) over the next three years like @jonahkeri and @d_a_cameron seem to be, you have to wonder why GM Ruben Amaro felt the need to do this deal almost two years earlier than necessary. Pujols will certainly sign for more than Howard did and both Prince and A-Gone are younger, so why not let the market set itself instead of the other way around?

Part of it may be an overreaction to the Phillies making a mistake by not buying out a few of Howard's post-arbitration years at a cheaper rate, but playing the waiting game would have:

1) Given Amaro time to see if Howard's skills decline over the next two years or suffer a big injury that would limit or cut his production in a similar way

2) Allowed the Phillies more time to weigh and address other upcoming needs, like re-signing Jayson Werth(notes) this offseason or strengthening a bullpen that could use retooling.

There's a lot to be said for an exclusive negotiating window and not allowing teams like the Red Sox, Cubs, White Sox or Mariners to drive up the price on a commodity that your farm system produced. But at the same time, I don't think a Phillies organization built around a core of Chase Utley(notes), Roy Halladay(notes), Cole Hamels(notes) and a great farm system would have crumbled if Howard had gone somewhere else.

In other words, any perceived savings of today won't equal the flexibility of tomorrow. The Phillies would have been better off waiting.

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