Quoting an interview with Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic, Matt Lombardo of NJ Advance Media reports that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. told first baseman Ryan Howard that the team would be better off without him. When asked about the possibility of releasing Howard, Amaro said that isn’t an option because he’s “too productive and too important” to the team.
Finding a trade partner will be difficult for obvious reasons:
- Howard has $60 million remaining on his contract, which includes $25 million in 2015 and ’16, plus a $10 million buyout for the ’17 season;
- Howard is 35 years old;
- Howard is strictly a first baseman or, ideally, a designated hitter;
- Howard was a below-average hitter, particularly when compared to others at his position, last season; and
- Howard was healthy for a full season last year after suffering a ruptured left Achilles at the end of the 2011 NLDS and a torn meniscus in July 2013, both serious injuries which still affect him to this day
As a result, the Phillies’ trade market for Howard is limited essentially to the American League. With the Chicago White Sox having recently signed Adam LaRoche and Kendrys Morales going to the Kansas City Royals, there aren’t really any obvious landing spots for Howard. At the moment, the Tampa Bay Rays seem like the best fit, as their 1B/DH situation is currently manned by James Loney and David DeJesus. The Baltimore Orioles are another potential fit if they seek a different look than Steve Pearce and Chris Davis. That’s about it.
To make anything happen, the Phillies would need to absorb an enormous amount of the $60 million remaining — likely at least $45 million. The acquiring team may even feel like that is too little. Think of it this way: what would Howard get on a two-year deal if he were to become a free agent right now? The Phillies eating $45 million would essentially make Howard a two-year, $15 million player ($7.5M annual average value). Billy Butler, who tied Howard at -0.3 WAR last season per FanGraphs, signed for three years and $30 million with the Oakland Athletics. He is, however, younger with a nearly spotless injury history. As a ballpark estimate, $45 million seems about right though I’d hold out for more as an American League GM.
The return on Howard won’t be very flattering. To offset some of the salary difference, the Phillies may have to accept another subpar expensive player (example: Ubaldo Jimenez of the Orioles). There will be no Zach Eflin or Tom Windle in this return.
To that end, it may not seem like moving Howard is worth it, but it may be the most beneficial move the Phillies can make right now outside of trading Cole Hamels for a massive return. Opening up first base allows the Phillies to move Maikel Franco, Cody Asche, or Darin Ruf to the position full time. Whether at third base or first base, Franco would be guaranteed regular at-bats for the foreseeable future, which is a very important factor. To a much less important point, Asche’s value would increase with a move to first base as he would add another position to his resume. Ruf, if used at first base sans Howard, would also gain a bit of value as long as he hits.
Moving Howard won’t be easy, but it is possible. The 1B/DH market may shift into a better market for sellers by mid-July, and Amaro could feasibly trade the slugger then. If and when it happens, the Phillies will have taken the next big step in their rebuilding process.
Ruben Amaro, Jr.: Phillies Better Off Without Ryan Howard
Author: Bill Baer
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