I've been sharply critical of Ryan Howard remaining a baseball player at the Major League level. Going into the 2016 season, I was more or less willing to accept him remaining on the roster because:
- The 2016 season was expected to be a 3 hour tour to nowhere and
- There was a lack of compelling alternatives at first base and
- Howard has a place in Phillies history as a great power hitter during a fabulous run, and the Phillies have usually tried to act with dignity and class toward franchise type players, so a "Long Goodbye" seemed like an OK idea.
Unfortunately, the 2016 Phillies have been kind of good. Or lucky. Or Lucky Good. Something. I mean, we all wanted them to tank hard, and that plan is failing, at least until the last two series. Maybe the early, optimistic signs we've seen so far are a false spring, ready to die back under a killing frost or a harder schedule or regression or some combination.
In any case, at this stage, the 2016 season may still be a 3 hour tour to nowhere, but it may also not be. Reason number 1 to keep Howard is not so clear anymore.
Since the start of the season, Tommy Joseph happened. And Darin Ruf unhappened as he has been unhappening for some time now. Ryan Howard, however, continues to happen though he should be unhappening because Pete Mackanin can't help himself and keeps inserting him into the lineup. The at-bats continue to look terrible. There is the usual assortment of defensive gaffes to review as GIFs, with some including even things that had been solid Howard defensive hallmarks, like glovework. Joseph is playing credible defense at first -- certainly better than Howard -- and his offense, in a small, small sample, has been actually good. Even if Joseph's hitting turns out to be a mirage, he almost cannot hit *worse* than Howard has been and his defense is better.
The "no credible alternative" argument to keep Howard playing first base is no longer valid.
Ryan Howard still has a place in Phillies history. He was central to many of my favorite moments. He's been a good guy. A pleasant "Long Goodbye" on that basis may still be fine, but that is about the only valid reason to keep him around right now.
Whether Howard will begin to play better (not defensively, but maybe offensively) can be debated as "Hittin' Season" approaches. Whether having a spot on the 40 man roster is an issue may be debatable, but I have no idea -- roster management is not my thing. The money is sunk either way, so that doesn't matter. It's almost impossible to imagine anyone trading for him for anything.
Keeping him in the MLB dugout is a problem because Pete keeps playing him and because a "benched" Ryan Howard is unlikely to have a positive effect. I don't know Howard to be a malingerer, but it would have to be painful for him to sit and not play. That just can't be a good thing, but I honestly do not know.
I think that trying to part with dignity and grace would be a better idea than releasing him. I've thought about this, and here is a plan:
Wait for interleague play to wrap up. If Howard hits as a DH, great. It's not the end of the world for a little while longer, honestly. It is frustrating to watch and it makes me sad, but ride it out for a bit longer.
After that, have Ryan Howard begin a Phillies Organization Victory Lap. Send him to all the affiliates to be honored for a couple of weeks. Do special bobbleheads. Do autographs. Have him take pictures with fans and the young players. Do interviews with local affiliate media about teaching the kids about winning championships and about being "a good Phillies."
June: Williamsport and Lakewood. July: Clearwater and Reading. August: Lehigh Valley. A couple of weeks at each place. A few days between to report from place to place to maybe stretch it to September.
When rosters expand, promote Ryan Howard to Philadelphia, and celebrate his career at CPB with Philadelphia's fans at the end of his career. That's where he belongs. Not DFAed. Not traded for nothing to some AL team. He should end it here, where he began and where he's thrilled all of us for years.