Despite landing a championship with the Phillies, Ryan Howard may be bidding Philadelphia farewell.
In ten seasons, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has done it all, winning Rookie of the Year in 2005 and National League MVP in 2006. Despite the lofty accolades, Howard’s greatest professional accomplishment came as the Phillies ended a 25-year championship drought by winning the 2008 World Series.
Howard is healthy again after two injury-plagued seasons, but with an aging roster and questionable personnel moves, the once elite slugger on a fast track to Cooperstown may be playing his final weeks in Phillies pinstripes
Ryan Howard may have survived baseball’s trading deadline, but the damage is irreparable.
The only numbers that mattered when it came to Ryan Howard during his historic first seven seasons in the majors were home runs and RBIs. His record number of strikeouts were a minor blip on everyone’s radar as the Phillies collected division titles, postseason appearances and an improbable World Championship in 2008.
In 2014, the fastest player to reach 100, 200 and 250 home runs respectively, is being cast aside in favor of who the hell knows. Skeptics and fans have pointed to Howard’s $25 million salary — and another $73 million owed to him after this season with a $23 million team option in the final year of the deal — as an albatross preventing the team from retooling. Injuries over the last two seasons were the culprit behind Howard’s drop in production. Fans highlighted Howard’s making the last outs in the Phillies postseason defeats in 2010 and 2011 (one which resulted in a torn Achilies) and the suddenly fragile frame of the 6’4″ 250 lb. slugger. Each miscue on the field or strikeout at the plate opened to door for ridicule of Howard’s salary — which suddenly became too much. It was Howard who was grossly underpaid in his first two seasons before going to arbitration consecutive years (Howard made $335,000 in 2006, his MVP season). After an MVP and a World Series title, how could the Phillies brass deny the best home run hitter in the game.
The Phiilies front office has equal share of the blame when it comes to Howard’s decline. From 2006-2010, Howard was afforded productive teammates hitting in the 3 and 5 spots holes allowing Howard to see his share of quality at bats. Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell , Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth have been replaced over the years with the likes of Dominic Brown, Marlon Byrd, John Mayberry Jr., Hunter Pence and Darin Ruf. The lack of production has opposing pitchers licking their chops when Howard — who has struggled mightily against left-handed pitching — steps in the batters box. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro has removed the protective hedge from the team’s best slugger (a cardinal sin in baseball) and left him out to dry.
The Phillies had a nice mixture of youth and experience when they captured the 2008 World Series title, but the team has rapidly aged. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins is the team’s longest tenured player at 15 seasons. Rollins along with Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Howard were all home-grown in the Phillies farm system.
The Phillies one untouchable has been second baseman Chase Utley — who like Howard has suffered through injuries and lack of plate production in recent seasons, but has not tasted the venom of the Philadelphia fans. No matter how terrible the slump, Utley gets a pass from fans and the media while Howard, Rollins and even Hamels to an extent catch their share of heat. Rollins for all he’s done in a Phillies uniform has drawn the ire of former manager Charlie Manuel and most recently current skipper Ryne Sandberg, who inexplicably benched him for three straight days during Spring Training. With Manuel, it was an occasional failure to run out a play that landed the Phillies all-time hits leader in the dog house. Unlike Hamels, Howard and Rollins, Utley does not own a regular season or postseason MVP. Despite a pair of shot knees, the Phillies believed enough in Utley to sign him to a two-year contract extension worth $27 million which ends in 2018. The deal almost certainly makes Utley a Phillies lifer, while his all-star teammates were the center of widespread trade rumors as the trade deadline approached and passed.
In the closing weeks of the 2014 season, we may see Howard platooned with Darin Ruf — a young hitter with power — who could use the at bats and experience at first base.
It was hard not to see this day coming for Howard, injuries and lack of effort in the Phillies front office accelerated the process of one of the game’s best power hitters. In an era where every tape measure drew a side eye from fans, Howard has remained true to the integrity of the game.
I wish the Phillies would’ve remained as faithful to Howard.