What About Ryan Howard?


The $64,000 question heading into the offseason is, “What to do with Ryan Howard?”  The Philadelphia Phillies have officially announced that they are rebuilding.  So, an aging slugger, in the throes of a steep decline, who is still owed a king’s ransom, doesn’t figure in the Phillies’ future plans.  Or does he?

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. has stated publicly that the Phillies would be better off without him on their roster heading into the 2015 campaign.  Sounds easy enough.  But, as with all of the Phillies’ veterans these days, there is a catch – a bad contract.  Nearly immovable.

The Phillies owe Howard $25 million per season in 2015 and 2016.  Plus, a $10 million buy out in 2017.  Therein lies the problem.  For the Phillies to find a willing dance partner, they would have to absorb a large majority of the remaining salary – if not all of it.

More from That Balls Outta Here

At this point in Howard’s career, he is a distinct liability on defense.  Therefore, Amaro needs to open his Rolodex to the American League general managers section.

At first glance, the Baltimore Orioles seem like a perfect match.  They have designs on the American League pennant, play in an even more hitter-friendly park than Citizens Bank Park (Camden Yards), and have a need for some power with the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.

The Orioles don’t know what to expect from Chris Davis, Matt Wieters will be less than one year removed from Tommy John surgery, and Delmon Youngyes, that Delmon Young – has been re-signed to a one-year contract.  If the Phillies cover 75% of the cost, Baltimore might take a flier on the big slugger.

If Amaro truly is seeking to move Howard, then he must do so this offseason – Howard attains 10-and-5 rights near the end of April 2015.  At that point, Howard has the right to veto any potential trade.

For all of the fan vitriol directed at Howard after each strikeout the past few seasons, let’s not gloss over the fact that he was, quite literally, the “Big Piece” during the golden age of Philadelphia Phillies baseball.  A franchise that has wallowed in mediocrity for the large majority of its 132-year history.

A 2005 injury to Jim Thome finally opened the door for Ryan Howard

When Jim Thome succumbed to a season-ending injury in 2005, it was Howard who stepped in and ended up winning the Rookie of the Year award.  Then came one of the most prodigious power seasons in major league history.

Howard’s 2006 season can, quite simply, be described in one word – Ruthian.  The numbers are staggering: .425 OBP, .313 BA, 1.084 OPS, 58 HR, 149 RBI.  Those numbers translated into the 2006 National League MVP Award.

For a four-year stretch (2006-09) Howard was the most feared power hitter in the game – totaling 198 home runs and 572 runs batted in during that period.  Then came the pre-injury decline.  The 2010 and 2011 seasons saw Howard’s power and production numbers take a drastic downturn across the board.  That decline can be attributed to one team – the New York Yankees.

Howard had a fantastic 2009 regular season: .931 OPS, .279 BA, 45 HR, 141 RBI.  That success carried over into the first two rounds of the playoffs.  In the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies, Howard finished with a .375 BA and .951 OPS.  He was the MVP of the NLCS where he single-handedly destroyed the Los Angeles Dodgers – sporting a 1.457 OPS.

Then came the World Series. The Phillies needed more than Chase Utley and Cliff Lee to defeat the Yankees.  They needed Howard to continue his offensive assault.  Unfortunately for the Phillies, the Yankees’ advance scouts were able to detect his fatal flaws – something the other 28 teams were not able to do.

The Yankees fed Howard an assortment of low-and-away breaking and off-speed pitches and fastballs in on the hands.  Howard was not able to adjust.  He hit just .174 (4-23) with an astonishing 13 strikeouts during the World Series.  His only home run came in ‘garbage time’ in the clinching Game 6, with the Phillies down 7-1.

Howard’s weaknesses were exposed on the most public of stages.  The entire baseball world was watching and every other team finally had a blueprint on how to pitch to Howard.  The feared slugger wasn’t so feared any longer.

The subsequent seasons were down by Howard standards – statistically speaking.  Then came the ruptured Achilles on the final play of that fateful Game 5 in 2011.  It was, for all intents and purposes, the end.  The end of the Phillies as we knew them.  The end of Roy Halladay as we knew him.  The end of Ryan Howard as we knew him.  Just like that, it was over.

Unfortunately, it was over before the 5-year/$125 million contract extension was set to begin.  Common sense would dictate caution on such a contract extension for a one-dimensional slugger.  All too often during Amaro’s ‘my way or the highway‘ tenure, caution is thrown to the wind.  For that, the Phillies are paying a hefty price, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Does Howard still has some production left?  Sure.  He still has one or two decent seasons left in him.  If a team is willing to take a chance on a 20 HR – 80 RBI designated hitter, Amaro needs to pull the trigger.  The time has come to part ways.  Time to see what Darin Ruf and Maikel Franco can do on a full-time basis.

If this is truly the end of Ryan Howard in red pinstripes, then it was a great run.  One that will culminate when he is inducted in the Phillies Wall of Fame.

In the meantime, it’s time to put up the orange ‘construction zone‘ signs in front of the entrance to the Phillies clubhouse.