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Bauman: Phils astute in locking up Howard

Bauman: Phils astute in locking up Howard

You cannot argue with Ryan Howard getting the big payday.

And you cannot argue with the Philadelphia Phillies making another truly major expenditure in the cause of maintaining their status as the National League's best team.

Put together Howard's significant accomplishments and the Phillies' demonstrated willingness to pay for excellence, and you come up with the largest contract in franchise history -- $125 million over five years, with a club option for a sixth year that could raise the total value of the deal to $138 million.

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This is not Alex Rodriguez money, but then it never has been for anyone other than that one individual. This is still a windfall. Over the five base years of the contract extension, the average annual salary is nearly as much as Rodriguez's annual take, and it is more per year than Joe Mauer got from the Minnesota Twins. Mauer received eight years for $184 million, but then, he is younger than Howard.

On the club side of it, this is an immense expenditure by any standard (other than A-Rod's), but this extension does not carry unreasonable length. Howard is 30. This is not one of those deals that could predictably injure the club on the back end, when the years catch up with the player involved. In this contract extension, the Phillies are showering Howard with affection and respect, not to mention money, but they have not become giddy or foolish about it.

There is no reason to project that Howard will go into a major decline over the course of his contract. He had one of his finest seasons in 2009, and as an encore, showed up at Spring Training in the best shape of his professional life.

It is true that Howard has not repeated as National League MVP after winning the award in 2006. But it is not his fault that he is in the same league as Albert Pujols. If Howard strikes out relatively often, this might be a small price to pay for hitting no fewer than 45 home runs in any of the past four seasons. No one else in the game has produced power with this kind of consistency over that period.

Since taking over from Jim Thome at first base in the middle of the 2005 season, Howard leads the Majors in home runs and RBIs. He has just come into a ton of money, but given the market for sluggers, given what his peers are making and given his proven abilities, this bonanza is not an unthinkable amount.

As for the Phillies, they have done what was necessary to keep a cornerstone of their success in their employ, at least through 2016. The Phillies, in winning the last two National League pennants, have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to pay for legitimate talent. What has separated them from some other franchises is that for the most part, their money has been astutely spent.

Like the 28 other Major League franchises, they are not the Yankees, and they cannot have everything on their wish list. You've seen it; Roy Halladay arrives, Cliff Lee departs. But this is an operation that can pay the going rate and then some for one of the game's most powerful sluggers. And that is what this club did with Ryan Howard, to the tune of $125 million over five years.

It is not money paid to a questionable character. It is not money paid to a player whose career is on the edge of decline. It is money paid to a solid citizen, a man in the prime of his career, for past services, in the reasonable hope that future services will be at the same level.

Howard has been a large part of the Phillies' success. With this deal in place, the chances of that success carrying into the future are even better than they were before.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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