Are the Philadelphia Phillies better off keeping Ryan Howard?


Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

As baseball’s hot stove season heats up, we’ve heard more and more rumors regarding Ryan Howard. It’s no secret that the Phillies would love to trade their first baseman, but a combination of diminished play and a hefty salary have made a trade near impossible.

It seems that the Phillies are now more determined than ever to get rid of him, and one way or another, Howard will be an ex-Phillie by the time the 2015 season begins.

I’m not convinced that the team wouldn’t be better off holding on to Howard.

I’m working on the assumption that regardless of what team Ryan Howard plays for in 2015, the Philadelphia Phillies are going to be paying him a lot of money. It is almost inconceivable that a team would be willing to trade for Howard without the Phillies picking up the majority of his remaining deal. So any trade involving Howard isn’t going to save them much money.

I’m also assuming that they wouldn’t get a top prospect in exchange for Howard.

I imagine there are at least a few teams intrigued by the thought of getting Ryan Howard for cheap. Baseball executives are forever tempted by power and name value, and despite his recent downturn, Howard still carries the potential for both.

A general manager might convince himself that give a change of scenery and full-time DH duties, Howard could once again hit over 30 home runs in a season. But I don’t think anyone will be so tempted that they’d give up more than a mid-level prospect in return.

If the Phillies aren’t saving money, and they’re not getting a good prospect in return, what would they really gain from trading Howard?

Maikel Franco. Image Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike past seasons when the only alternative at first seemed to be John Mayberry, Jr., the Phillies actually have some players who would benefit from additional playing time. If Howard is still on the team, younger players like Darin Ruf (although in Ruf’s case, younger is relative) and Maikel Franco would likely have trouble seeing the field.

Since Howard doesn’t have a future with the team and there are some potential replacements who might, it seems like a no-brainer just to dump him, right?

Maybe not.

It’s possible that the Phillies would be better suited keeping Howard on the roster as a reserve. Yes, he would be a one-dimensional player, but the same could be said about Matt Stairs. Most bench players are one-dimensional. That’s why they’re bench players and not starters.

Even though he’s no longer the feared slugger he once was, having him as a potential pinch hitter could very well affect the decisions made by opposing managers. At the very least, the possibility of Howard coming off the bench will be more intimidating than pinch-hitting with the likes of Laynce Nix or Reid Brignac.

This plan is far from fool-proof though.

Howard didn’t react well when he was benched for a three-game stretch last season. He’s probably still convinced that he should be a regular player, and might not be pleased about moving to a reserve role. The Phillies clubhouse is already rumored to be an unhappy place, and a disgruntled Howard would likely add to the problem.

It probably won’t help Franco’s development to have Howard making snide comments every time the rookie hits a rough patch.

Even if Howard did agree to a lessened role, there’s always the danger that when things got tough (and things are likely to get very tough in 2015), team management would revert to old habits and place Howard back into the lineup.

If we learned nothing else in 2014, it is that a lineup with Ryan Howard at cleanup is not going to be an especially good one. The days of blindly penciling Howard into the four-hole should have been over long ago. But in the majority of games in 2014, that’s exactly what happened.

If all parties were in agreement, then I think Ryan Howard as a bench player would be a tremendous asset to the 2015 Phillies. Unfortunately, I am doubtful that would actually happen. And that’s the biggest reason Ryan Howard’s time with the Phillies is likely at its end.