Last week, the Phillies left us with just one remaining connection to the glory days of 2008. By trading Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers, only Ryan Howard now remains on the roster. Based on how Howard has been playing recently, it's worth bracing yourself for him leaving the team in the next 36 hours as well.
Tomorrow night is the MLB deadline for trading a player and that player still being eligible for the post-season with his new team. The player must have passed through waivers already, which is the difference between this trade deadline and the July 31 one. Players can still be traded after August 31, but except in rare circumstances, they cannot be on the post-season roster.
Like Chooch, Ryan Howard passed through waivers earlier this month, which means that the Phillies can trade him to any team. However, he does have a no-trade clause that allows him to veto a trade to any team other than 9 AL teams - the Tigers, Royals, Angels, Mariners, Yankees, Rangers, Rays, Orioles, and Red Sox.
I'm not sure how much Howard would enforce the clause, however, given that he's in the last month of a contract with a last-place team. Going for the glory with a team in contention, without in any way sacrificing his financial position, seems like a no-brainer for him.
So if the no-trade clause isn't an issue, will any team want him in the next day and a half? Based on his full season performance, it's hard to think so. Howard has a 78 OPS+, with a .194/.249/.432 triple-slash line. Looked at this way, it's been another ugly year for Howard as his career declines into oblivion.
But a team looking to help itself in the last month has to look deeper and can't ignore what Howard has done over the past two-plus months. Since June 23, Howard has been looking like his old self. Overall, he has a .286/.340/.612 line. Over the entire season, that .952 OPS would be just a tick behind Joey Votto for 8th in the majors, and slightly better than Yoenis Cespedes. In other words, Howard has been with the baseball elite since late June.
Howard has been even better against righties. Since June 23, he's had 107 plate appearances. 11 of those have been against lefties, and he's been horrible - 2 measly singles, good for a .182/.182/.182 line.
In the other 96 plate appearances, Howard has pummeled right-handed pitching. He's had 14 extra-base hits (5 doubles, 9 home runs) out of 26 hits overall. He's walked 9 times. His triple-slash line is .299/.358/.667. That 1.025 OPS would be second in all of baseball - trailing only David Ortiz's 1.038 season.
I made this argument a few weeks ago and it still appears to hold - the Phillies have figured out how to use Ryan Howard to get the most out of him. They pick the right-handed starting pitchers who he can have success against and then let him mash. Even with struggling in his last two games (0 for his last 7), Howard is still posting dominant numbers over the last two-plus months.
Contending teams have to be taking notice. I am no expert on all of the teams possibly in contention right now across MLB, but a quick look at the team rankings against righties shows that several contending teams could stand to improve against right-handed pitching.
One team that stands out is the Royals (one of the teams not on Howard's no-trade list). They are 27th in wOBA against righties, and have a switch-hitting DH in Kendrys Morales who is much better against lefties than righties. Against lefties, Morales is doing well, with an .838 OPS and 119 wRC+. However, against righties, Morales has a much lower .706 OPS with a weak 88 wRC+. HE's doing even worse recently - in his last 100 plate appearances against righties, Morales has a .683 OPS. Wouldn't replacing Morales against righties a few games a week with the equivalent of David Ortiz help the Royals down the stretch?
I'm sure there are other teams out there. One month of Howard will cost a lottery-ticket prospect and some small portion of the remaining $4 million on his contract. The Phillies would almost certainly pay most of that, as well as the $10 million buyout for next year.
For that small price, some team should want to take a chance on Howard continuing his hot streak into September and possibly the post-season.
I am by no means saying that this will certainly happen by the end of the baseball day tomorrow. However, given that the stars have seemingly aligned as best they can here -- cleared waivers, drastically improved performance, last day and a half before deadline -- we as long-time Howard fans have to face the possibility that he won't be on the team after tomorrow night.
In other words, brace yourself - by Thursday, the Phillies' slate could be wiped completely clean of all remnants of 2008. That is a necessary thing eventually (whether this week or this off-season), but it's nonetheless still something to be emotionally prepared for given how much Howard has given to the Phillies over the course of his career.