For years, a vocal section of the Phillies fanbase has been desperate for the team to trade one of the greatest first basemen in franchise history, Ryan Howard.
We all know why. After ripping his Achilles into a million pieces at the end of Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, Howard has been a shell of what he used to be. In 508 games (1998 PAs) since that awful night, Howard has a slash line of .224/.290/.416, with an OPS of .706, averaging 17 homers and 60 RBIs a season over that stretch.
The 2012 season was the one in which his five-year, $125 million extension kicked in, paying him $20 million a season in ‘12 and ‘13, and then $25 million a season in 2014, ‘15 and this season. There is also a $10 million buyout for next year that must be paid and, as of now, Howard has been worth -2.8 fWAR since 2012.
It’s understandable why Phils fans have been dying for some team to make an offer, any offer, for Howard. And even though he slammed 23 homers a season in ‘14 and ‘15, it wasn’t enough to get some team to bite.
However, now that Howard’s deal is almost up, John Perrotto of Today’s Knuckleball reports there is a chance some team could look to acquire The Big Piece before the August 1 trade deadline.
It has long seemed impossible that the Phillies would ever find someone to take first baseman Ryan Howard in a trade. However, they are getting feelers from teams now that his five-year, $125 million contract is nearing its end.
The 36-year-old Howard is hitting just .159 with a .599 OPS in 73 games but has hit 14 home runs in 234 plate appearances.
"I’d take him just to have him come off the bench in a pennant race and the postseason," an AL scout said. "He’s pretty much at the end of the line but the one thing he can still do is pop a ball out of the ballpark. He might win you a game or two for you that way."
Perhaps there is a team or two that is interested in making Howard what Matt Stairs was for the Phillies in 2008. He does have those 14 bombs this year and has historically been a good pinch hitter (.274/.338/.603, .940 OPS, wRC+ 143, 6 pinch-hit HRs in 80 PAs for his career). But this year's wRC+ of 52, his BABIP of .168, that on-base percentage of .223 and fWAR of -1.4 are both ghastly.
Any team looking to acquire Howard would be looking for lightning in a bottle, and certainly wouldn’t give up anything of note to get him. The Phillies would also likely have to pick up virtually every penny of his remaining contract.
That was a big ask for the Phils when $50 million was still on the books. But now it’s down to about $22 million (the prorated amount left on his $25 million salary this year and the $10 million buyout), and if it means getting Howard to a contender and freeing up Mackanin to play Tommy Joseph every day, it’s possible general manager Matt Klentak could pull the trigger.
And in a reduced role, it's important to note that Howard has been a terrific soldier in the clubhouse for the Phils this season, as Perrotto mentioned in his piece.
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has been impressed by how Howard has handled reduced playing time this season.
"I don’t know if he necessarily has liked it but he has accepted it and he has been really good in the clubhouse with our young kids, always talking with them, always encouraging them," Mackanin said.
Certainly, Howard’s current contract isn’t hurting the Phils' budget, and he hasn't been a distraction, either. The Phillies surely don’t feel the same kind of pressure to move him now that they did over the last two or three years.
That said, if a team is willing to trade for Howard, I have a hard time seeing the Phillies saying no. And if nothing is done by August 1, Howard is certainly a candidate to be moved before the waiver trade deadline on August 31.
So, you may be seeing your last days of Ryan Howard in a Phillies uniform.