It’s quite remarkable to look back at the 08′ and 09′ Philadelphia Phillies teams and see how much has changed. The Phillies went from being World Series contenders year in and year out to suddenly being old and rebuilding. The Phillies roster was certainly not filled with spring chickens during their run, but that rebuild mindset came like a thief in the night.
It’s easy to see the turning point in the Phillies’ organization. When Ryan Howard tore his Achilles tendon trying to leg out a groundout in the final game of the 2011 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, there was suddenly a black cloud hovering over the team. Suddenly, the staple in the middle of their lineup, their power bat, their former MVP, was lying on the first base line with a career threatening injury. And boy, did it have an effect.
Ryan Howard hasn’t been the same since that injury. He went from hitting 30+ home runs every year from ’06-’11 (58 in 2006 and 48 in 2008) to being lucky to hit 20 in a single season. He’s looked lost at the plate. He can’t get around on a fastball like he once could and off-speed pitches continue to baffle him. He hit .223 last season, a career low for a full season. Howard is, simply, not the same player he was when the Phillies signed him to that five-year, $125 million contract extension that kicked in the season after he blew out his Achilles.
To add insult to injury, the Phillies are now willing to eat 50 out of the $60 million dollars he still has on his contract. They just want to get rid of him. The problem with his contract is the $10 million dollar buyout on Howard’s contract option. Essentially, whichever team decides, or if a team decides, to trade for him, he will be owed $5 million per year, for two years. He would become one of the most expensive DHs or bench bats in the game today. Therein lies the Phillies problem.
If the Phillies are honest with themselves, the trade market for Howard is extremely, and I mean extremely, limited. He almost certainly has to go to an American League team to play DH because his defense is so anemic. That brings up another problem — many AL teams have pretty good DHs. Seattle has Nelson Cruz, Oakland has Billy Butler, Detroit has Victor Martinez, Kansas City has Kendrys Morales, Boston has David Ortiz. Those are just the big names. There are many more decent DHs that are better than Howard, and cheaper. Like Kennys Vargas in Minnesota.
I can only see three teams as possible landing spots for Howard.
Cleveland currently has Nick Swisher slotted in their DH role. He’s exactly the pillar of consistency, and he can’t seem to stay healthy. Swisher’s knees are in bad shape. But, they also have Brandon Moss and David Murphy who could possibly fill that role.
#2: Tampa Bay
Taking a chance on Howard as a source of left-handed power off the bench makes sense. In this club especially, Howard could also be a club house leader in a locker room littered with young talent. The Rays are 14-12 right now, but have scored only 96 runs this season which ranks 23rd in all of MLB. Taking a chance on Howard’s power returning could be a low-risk, high-reward investment for the cost conscious Rays front office.
#3: Blue Jays
It’s no secret that Toronto has one of the most potent lineups in the MLB right now. With Bautista, Donaldson, and Encarnacion hitting 3-5, Toronto has a lineup littered with land mines for pitchers. Is Howard better than Dioner Navarro? Maybe, but a left-handed bat could do Toronto some good if they plug him in-between that trio of right-handed power bats.
The Phillies are open to paying Ryan Howard while he plays for another club. But the truth of the matter is, unless the Phillies are willing to eat every cent on that contract, and maybe even if they do, there won’t be many teams interested.