I know the title of the article will be controversial, especially among Philly fans, but I honestly believe it's the best course of action for the Phillies to take. My hope is that the Phillies will not heed my advice, because as a Mets fan, the sooner they stink the better.
Hear me out before you tune me out!
Let's get some basic points down that we can agree on:
- The Phillies offense is powerful and has some speed.
- Their defense is terrific (even with a black hole like Howard at first base).
- Their rotation is very good (though GM Ruben Amaro thinks it could be better).
- Their bullpen stinks.
- Their farm system is solid.
- This offseason Ruben Amaro, Jr. is looking for a third baseman, bullpen help, and some solid role players for the bench.
I think almost everyone can agree on these basic points.
Now, let me try and break down why I think the Phils' best bet is to move Howard as soon as possible. Outside of his deplorable World Series, Howard's value is at its peak. He is seen as a sure power bat for the middle of ANY order. An almost guaranteed 40 HR every year. His defense is not good but has shown signs of improvement.
So why would the Phillies even consider trading Howard?
Howard is a beast when it comes to HR but let's think about some other aspects of his game. His defense is anecdotely below average (though his career UZR shows him to be, at worst, average).
His career batting average is .279 but over the last three years it's been a roller coaster (.268 in 2007; . 251 in 2008; .279 in 2009). Since Ryan Howard has become a full time player, no one has struck out more than he has.
And while other sluggers with high strike out totals generally draw a lot of walks, Howard does not find himself on that leader board with totals of 75 and 81 in each of the last two years (over his career Howard has averaged 90 walks a year...but that trend is down).
The biggest reason to trade Howard, though, is this: He will make $19 million in 2010, and $20 million 2011. That is a big burden on a Phillies roster that has only recently started spending big market money.
Wrapping it up... the Phillies are a good offensive team, and the loss of Ryan Howard would not cripple them. In fact, if you swapped Howard with a replacement level first baseman the Phillies are probably still a playoff team.
I, however, am not suggesting a replacement level player. If the team that the Phils deal Howard to does not have a major league-ready option at first, then the Phils should sign one of the following: Carlos Delgado, Adam LaRoche, or Chad Tracy.
Let's look at a couple of options for trade partners.
First, the Dodgers. The Dodgers seem to have run out of patience for James Loney, as the power that they hoped would develop has just not come. I would offer Howard to the Dodgers for James Loney, Chad Billingsley, and Ramon Troncoso.
Troncoso helps with that bullpen problem, and Billingsley slots in quite well into that Philly rotation. Meanwhile Loney's defense is a plus, he is patient at the plate, and his bat will not hurt the team. For the Dodgers, the draw is simple: an awesome power bat sitting in the middle of their already very dangerous lineup.
Or how about the San Francisco Giants? Ryan Howard for Matt Cain, Angel Villalona, and a pitching prospect. It would quickly fix the Giants' first base problems, as well as turn their offense from anemic to dangerous. Matt Cain could slot into the rotation right behind Cliff Lee, and Angel Villalona could fill Howard's spot in a year or two. Meanwhile, Carlos Delgado, Adam LaRoche, or Chad Tracy can keep his spot warm.
The Seattle Mariners used Russel Branyan at first base in 2009, and he is an option for them in 2010...but given the chance, they would jump to add Howard to their roster, especially now that Adrian Beltre is coming off the books.
The Mariners would need to give up first baseman Mike Carp, RP Josh Fields, third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo, and SP Stephen Hensley and Michael Pineda. Carp could contribute immediately, but should probably back up a free agent pick-up at first. Fields could also be an immediate help in the bullpen.
Word is that the Red Sox are hot and heavy for Adrian Gonzalez. Well, what if Ruben Amaro Jr. gave them a call before any deal with the Padres could go down? The Red Sox would love to get Howard's big bat at first base.
What would a deal between the two look like? How about the Red Sox sending RP Josh Bard, SP Micheal Bowden, first baseman Lars Anderson, and first baseman Anthony Rizzo to Philly. Bard, Bowden, and Anderson can help the Phillies within the year, while Rizzo projects to a little further out. The Red Sox get the power bat they need to keep up with the Jones', namely the Yanks.
You might think that the Phillies would miss Howard's prodigious power, but other than the Yankees the Phillies are the team in the best position to subtract his kind of power.
The Phillies were second in baseball in HR in 2009, behind only the Yankees with 224 bombs. If you subtract Howard's 45 bombs, they fall back to eleventh in the majors (still better than average), and that's without replacing a single HR. Let's say we replace Howard with a below-average power hitter like James Loney who had 13 bombs. With Loney the Phils slide right back up to seventh in the majors in home runs last year.
It's starting to sound like the home runs may be a bit of a luxury for a team with a few other glaring needs. Trading Howard and his $40 million over the next two years would give the Phillies a lot of breathing room to sign some major help. Think of what $20 million each year could bring back for the Phillies at various positions, and then debate the logic of trading Ryan Howard.