Saturday, January 10, 2015

Howard Has to Go

The Phillies have made it clear that Howard has to go, but where? (ESPN)
After reading up on the latest Ryan Howard rumors, I've concluded that he's the least desirable player in baseball. His team doesn't want him, and apparently neither does anyone else. Probably because he's the new (and more expensive) Adam Dunn, by which I mean the washed-up version of Dunn who struggled to hit .200 with 20 home runs and still struck out a ton last year.

Howard has always been a three true-outcome hitter, but that was perfectly fine when he was cranking 45 home runs and driving in 140 runs. Those days are long gone, however, and they're never coming back. Howard's two beneficial outcomes--walks and homers--are happening less frequently while his worst outcome (the dreaded strikeout) is occurring more often:


These troubling trends have diminished Howard from a great hitter in 2011 (126 OPS+) to a below average one by 2014 (93 OPS+). Already a liability in the field and on the bases, Howard is now deficient in all areas of the game. Sure enough, he was below replacement level last year (and in 2012, for that matter).

Like the recently-retired Dunn, Howard is unplayable on defense, so incompetent in the field that even first base is out of the question. The 35 year-old is a DH-only at this point. Problem is, he plays for a National League team (the Phillies). Philadelphia would love to trade him, but good luck finding someone to take him off their hands.

Because in addition to being a big-bodied 35 year-old in steep decline, Howard still has two years remaining on his ill-advised five-year, $125 million contract extension he signed with Philadelphia prior to the 2012 season, plus a team option for 2017 that, barring a Barry Bonds or David Ortiz-esque renaissance, seems guaranteed to be bought out (at a cost of $10 million). In order to move Howard, the Phillies are going to have to eat a considerable chunk of that, but it's better than cutting him outright for nothing in return.

Even Ruben Amaro, Jr., Philly's clueless GM, has realized it's time to move on. He's finally kickstarting the rebuild process in Philadelphia, albeit two or three years too late. He already traded Jimmy Rollins, who was actually still useful. Jonathan Papelbon is likely headed out the door, and Cliff Lee will probably be gone next summer, too. Pretty soon it's going to be Chase Utley and a bunch of guys.

So it's clear Howard has to play elsewhere next year, but where will he land? Surely someone could find a spot for him, as he's not completely useless at this point. He still has above average power and gets on base at a league average rate. He's not an everyday player anymore, especially against lefties, but he'd be a great fit for an AL team seeking power, especially if said team plays in a hitter-friendly park.

He'd probably do really well with the Yankees, but they've got plenty of DH options between Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran. The Orioles could use him after losing Nelson Cruz, and like New York have a ballpark that's well-suited to Howard's strengths. The Indians, perhaps? The Tigers? (if they want to see firsthand how Prince Fielder would have aged?).

Wherever he goes, the Phillies have made one thing abundantly clear. It's closing time, Ryan Howard, and you can't stay here.

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