The Philadelphia Phillies desperately crave a divorce from longtime first baseman Ryan Howard. If they want to get one, though, it's going to cost them. A lot.
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reported Thursday that the Phillies have increased their efforts to trade Howard, specifically contacting American League clubs. The line of thinking is that Howard, a defensive minus for the entirety of his career, would have more value in a situation where he could be an everyday designated hitter.
That, of course, is important because Howard is owed a massive pile of money over the next couple of seasons. The Phillies are on the hook for no less than $60 million over the next two seasons and still have a prorated portion of his deal for 2014 on the books. Howard inked a five-year, $125 million extension in 2010.
The contract carries guaranteed base salaries of $25 million in 2015 and 2016. The Phillies (or another team) would then hold an option for $23 million in 2017, paying a $10 million buyout if they choose to decline. Sending Howard to the American League might lessen the amount of money Philadelphia will have to pay in order to get a team to bite on a potential deal.
Heyman suggested the Phillies will have to eat "much or most" of the remaining deal. Philadelphia has until next Thursday at 4 p.m. ET to consummate a trade before the non-waiver deadline. Because of Howard's onerous deal, however, it's very likely the Phillies can stretch Howard negotiations past the waiver deadline of August 31.
Howard, 34, is in the midst of his third straight miserable season. He's batting .224/.305/.377 with 15 home runs and 60 RBI as the Phillies to continue to rank among baseball's worst offensive clubs. Philadelphia is in the bottom five in runs, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and nearly every other major category.
Despite having the third-highest Opening Day payroll in Major League Baseball, the Phillies are 44-58 after Thursday's win over the San Francisco Giants. They trail the Washington Nationals by 12.5 games in the National League East and seem headed for their third straight season without October baseball.
The downturn has caused general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to consider dealing his high-cost veterans with an eye toward the future. Chase Utley, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and Jonathan Papelbon are chief among those players most mentioned on the rumor mill. Howard is the player the Phillies would most like to get rid of because of his salary structure, but he is also the most difficult.
Manager Ryne Sandberg has benched his struggling first baseman each of the last two days. Outfielder Darin Ruf has started in Howard's place, with Sandberg indicating the position may be more of a platoon going forward.
“I’m interested to see what he can do,” Sandberg told reporters of Ruf. “I know what [Howard] can do. I've seen him for 100 games. I know what he can do. I think it's important to see what a guy like Darin Ruf can do also going forward.”
Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reported the Phillies were even considering releasing Howard if his production doesn't pick up. The Atlanta Braves did something somewhat similar with second baseman Dan Uggla this month, though Atlanta ate a much smaller contract. The Phillies would prefer to find a trade partner who is willing to take at least some of the money headed Howard's way.
The question is whether any team will get desperate enough for power to take the plunge. As mentioned earlier, Howard has one of the most unwieldy contracts in baseball history. Couple that with a steady decline and you get a pretty unattractive combination.
History has shown that some team will step up and take on a bad contract if it thinks the move will help the team, with the Los Angles Angels' trade for Vernon Wells standing out. It could take a while, but the Phillies may get the reprieve they're so badly craving at some point down the road.
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