In 2016, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard will turn 37 years old, and he will make $25 million. In 2016, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira will turn 36 and make $22.5 million. By every objective baseball measure other than home runs (and that, only barely), Teixeira is a better player than Howard and will continue to be for the rest of this decade. But he will make less money the whole way. This is partly because the Phillies just made an almost incomprehensibly short-sighted deal, but it's also because of something entirely unanticipated and quite wonderful for Yankees fans: The Yankees have the advantage of a non–home team discount.
First off, let there be no doubt about this: The Phillies just gave Howard an absolutely insane contract. Rob Neyer probably had the best breakdown:
Howard's going to be paid like one of the best players in the sport, and he's not. Not one of the very best. Last year, enjoying one of his two best seasons, Howard might have been one of the 30 best players in the majors. Maybe one of the 25 best. And maybe, just maybe, if you stretch the boundaries of analysis and tilt everything in his favor, he was one of the 20 best players in the major leagues. That was 2009. What will we (and the Phillies) be trying to do in 2015? Make a case for him as one of the 40 best players in the majors? One of the 50 best?
(Craig Calcaterra has a grand roundup of all the reactions.)
What's more interesting to us, though — because it shows a strange new ripple in the Yankees-Time-Space Continuum — is that it's illustrative of yet another advantage the Yankees have. This is best described as the Face of the Franchise Bonus. It's one that everyone has to pay. But it's one that only the Yankees can really afford.
In a look at how Howard's contract will make it that much more difficult for the Cardinals to sign Albert Pujols, Viva El Birdos deftly explains:
That's the difference between Teixeira (or, for some reason, Chase Utley) and Pujols or Howard or Ichiro — when the GM is sitting across the figurative bargaining table (is there a literal bargaining table?) from the face of the franchise, the one player whose absence would convince casual fans that the team doesn't care about winning, there's an added value and an added urgency to contract negotiations. Trading Johan Santana was too bad for the Twins and their fans, but signing Joe Mauer was a referendum. The Phillies are the most successful team in the National League as the decade begins, but losing Ryan Howard would disconnect the newly cutthroat Phillies — trading for Cliff Lee and then Roy Halladay — from the ones that finally shook them from their early-aughts malaise. I can't look at the Phillies' books, but that's my best guess; Joe Mauer, Ryan Howard, and Albert Pujols are worth more to their home teams than they are to any other club that might be able to afford them.
More specifically: They are worth more to their home teams than they are worth to the Yankees. When Mauer signed with the Twins before the season, he received the opposite of a hometown discount: The Twins had to pay Yankees prices for him. (It is far from certain that the Yankees, as currently constituted, would pay a catcher with limited power potential $184 million through 2018.) Mauer is a great player better than Howard but if that deal blows up, the Twins are toast. (They might be anyway, even if Mauer is fine.) The same thing for the Cardinals if they re-sign Pujols for $32 million a year for the next decade. The Phillies had to sign Howard because they need to be seen as a franchise that takes care of its guys, the way the Yankees have, the way everyone presumes they will with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera this off-season.
But those teams aren't the Yankees. The Yankees' financial advantages so dwarf every other team that trying to be the Yankees every decade or so, with one guy, plays right into their hands. The guy you mortgaged your whole future for, the one you were absolutely convinced that if you didn't sign him forever your fan base would abandon you? Yeah, the Yankees have five guys like that. And because everyone knows the Yankees aren't going anywhere, and that even if they don't sign Matt Holliday or Jason Bay they'll be just fine, they're dictating the terms. Ryan Howard is making more money from the Phillies than Mark Teixeira a better player! by far! is getting from the Yankees. Think about that. With the overwrought Howard contract surely skewing the free-agent market for first basemen of which there are several, from Pujols to Prince Fielder to Adrian Gonzalez the Teixeira deal, which was seen as a shockingly large contract at the time, is already starting to look like a bargain.
The Phillies overpaying to keep their own guy; the Yankees paying less to get a mercenary. The Yankees have reached the point at which their constant spending isn't just giving them an advantage and isn't just crippling other teams ... it may actually be allowing them to spend less. Brian Cashman and Albert Pujols are the happiest people in baseball this morning.