Phillies Trade of Ryan Howard Won’t Be Easy

ethanwitte
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The Philadelphia Phillies would like to move on from Ryan Howard, and turn the page fully towards a new generation of players.

In yesterday’s piece, I presented evidence showing that Ryan Howard has still been productive for the Phillies, even though his body of work isn’t very eye appealing, certainly not up to standards that he set a decade ago.

Howard continues to drive in runs for the team at an above average rate, according to a new statistic, tRBI+, which I presented in yesterday’s piece with discussion, links, and charts.

While Howard would likely continue to provide that value to the 2016 Phillies lineup, it is probably best for him and the team to part ways now so that a) the Phillies can look at younger players who could become part of their next contender, and b) Howard can have another shot at winning a title.

Trading Howard isn’t as simple as being desirable by both parties. He is owed $25 million on his contract for the 2016 season, with a $10 million buyout for the 2017 season. So Howard is guaranteed another $35 million, no matter where he plays, how much he plays, or even if he plays at all.

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He can only play one position, first base, and has never been a full-time Designated Hitter in his career. To move him, the Phillies would have to either pay most or all of his contract, or trade his bad contract for another.

Since eating a lot of money in a deal does not appear to be attractive to Phillies’ ownership, and other teams only want Howard under those conditions, then trading for na equally poor contract might be the better direction to pursue.

What constitutes a “bad” contract? First, it would probably have to be for no more than the same length, one to two years, as Howard’s deal. The Phillies certainly won’t be interested in acquiring any player perceived to be as immovable as Howard, but under contract for an even longer length.

The player acquired would also have to fill a need for the Phillies. For example, there is little reason to trade for a shortstop, when top prospect J.P. Crawford would possibly be filling that position by August. Freddy Galvis can continue to keep the spot warm until Crawford arrives.

When scanning the rosters and the contracts around baseball, options for teams to which Howard could be traded seem extremely limited.

The first team that often comes up in such hypotheticals is the Baltimore Orioles. The AL East club has had a need for a first baseman/designated hitter-type player over the past few years. That need is only amplified now with the departure of free agent Chris Davis.

Missing Davis’ thunder from the middle of Buck Showalter‘s lineup could put a serious dent in the O’s run production. Howard, as we’ve seen, still has the ability to drive in runs at an above average rate.

One of the players most frequently mentioned in a bad contract swap is veteran pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, who still has $26 million left on a contract running through 2017.

Sep 4, 2015; Boston, MA, USA;

Traditional DH role filled by bat-only players such as Boston’s 

. (Photo Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

Jimenez could be a good option added to the suddenly deep pitching corps being assembled in Philadelphia by GM Matt Klentak. However, Baltimore appears to be trying to add pitching themselves. Dealing away an arm such as Jimenez, who actually performed quite admirably last year with a 101 ERA+, might not be an avenue that the Orioles wish to travel down at this time.

Another team and player discussed in the past has been the Minnesota Twins and pitcher Ricky Nolasco. Signed to a four-year, $49 million deal prior to the 2014 season, it was hoped that Nolasco would provide the Twins with a veteran presence and a reliable, league average arm.

Instead, Nolasco has posted high ERA+ marks of 73 and 62 the past two years in only 196 total innings. He has also fought through various injuries, but even those injuries do not fully explain his poor performance.

Swapping Nolasco for Howard made a little sense in that the Phillies needed pitching, and perhaps an environment change could push Nolasco back towards the level of a league average pitcher.

However, the Twins just added Korean free agent Byung-ho Park to go along with Miguel Sano and Joe Mauer, all of whom would occupy either first base or DH. This makes a deal for Howard to Minnesota superfluous.

I could go on and on, but the fact of the matter appears to be that there really isn’t any reasonable match for Howard anywhere in the game. Teams have gotten smarter. They aren’t signing one-dimensional sluggers who can only play first base, because it limits positional flexibility.

With the impending retirement of David Ortiz, it appears that the traditional DH is going by the wayside. Teams now use the position to give players a day off from fielding, instead of locking that DH slot down with one roster spot, especially with an expensive bat-only player.

While Howard is still capable of being a productive hitter, there really doesn’t seem to be any obvious match for a Phillies trade. As much as some fans might want to see Darin Ruf play 1st base more often, the best current situation for the club may simply be a straight righty-lefty platoon of the two sluggers.

It appears as though we’re all in for one final season of watching the Big Piece ply his trade in red pinstripes. It won’t be the dynamic slugger of those previous contending teams, but it just might come with a few big moments that harken us back to a better time. Meanwhile, all around Howard the real future pieces will continue to arrive.

Next: The Big Piece Still Producing for Phillies

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