The whole Ryan Howard “issue” points to the frustration level of the Phillies, among the players, the coaches and the front office. Throughout the three-day Howard benching, nobody was happy. The truth is that there are no easy answers and Howard himself isn’t making things easy. The first thing that happened when Ryan Howard was benched, was that history was revised. There were very few people who would have booed Ruben Amaro Jr. for giving Howard the deal that he did in April of 2010. At the time, Howard was a monster, pure and simple. If you talk about the phrase Beast Mode, it should have been coined by watching Ryan Howard hit a baseball.
Howard had won a Rookie of the Year Award and an MVP Award in back-to-back seasons (2005 and 2006) and in the next three seasons finished fifth, second and third in the MVP balloting. Twice in three seasons, he led the league in home runs and three times in four seasons, led the league in RBI.
When Howard was benched, the naysayers knew it would be stupid to talk about Howard not being worth the money, because he had the stats to back up the deal. So, they attacked the fact that the Phillies didn’t have to give him the new deal when they did. Instead, they point out, they could have gone to arbitration with him for two more years, during which time, Howard’s numbers dropped back to Earth. Had they waited, Howard might not have gotten the length or the money that he did. Had they waited, Howard may have decided to move on and test the free agent waters where a bidding war might have pushed his value right back up to the kind of numbers the Phillies gave him in April of 2010.
Again, you can shift things how you want them and say that the Phillies would have been better off had Howard left, but there would have been an uproar about how the Phillies didn’t spend the money to keep Ryan Howard in a Phillies uniform. Hell, you can find those that fault the Phillies for not giving Jayson Werth more money than Washington offered him and Werth hasn’t come close to putting up the caliber of numbers that his contract would warrant. Yet you still find those revisionists – they even revise current events – who say Werth would have been worth the money.
In benching Howard, manager Ryne Sandberg kind of hinted that Howard wasn’t his type of player. Sandberg pointed out that the team needed younger players. Odds are that if Howard were still in that ever-popular Beast Mode, he would be Sandberg’s type of player. In fact, in his two games back, Howard looked much like the type of player that his manager probably wouldn’t have an issue with having in the lineup.
With Howard’s overall numbers and his contract, there is no trading him. The only option might be where you are simply paying him to play for someone else and they happen to drop a mid-level prospect or two into your organization. Problem is, that the Phillies are even having a problem finding a partner willing to do that. You also can’t leave him in the lineup, unless the numbers start to trend upward.
It’s somewhat ironic that not long ago, top prospect Maikel Franco was playing horribly for Lehigh Valley. Manager Dave Brundage sat him down for a couple days and simply told him “you’re not playing.” When Franco returned, he caught on fire. Howard sat for three days and when he returned – albeit, it’s only been two games – he showed the sweet stroke that we all know and love. He hit a home run to left field, which is a sure sign that the swing is straightening itself out. Problem now is that he has to do that over and over and over again, to show that he truly is back.
But what if he is back? Is the relationship with the Phillies too badly damaged? Odds are that it’s not. Odds are though that the Phillies would still entertain the thought of dealing him elsewhere, if they can find a willing taker.
Perhaps, the bottom line for Howard can be summed up with a line from good ole Mickey in Rocky 3. “The worst thing happened to you that could happen to any fighter; you got civilized.”
“This is baseball. I know some people might misconstrue this comment, but baseball is a game. Yeah, I get paid a lot of money to play it, but it’s a game. You go out and see little kids doing it, because it’s a game. You have to keep things in perspective,” Howard explained. “I have a beautiful wife, a son, a baby on the way. You have to take a look at life and have to look at it for what it is. I love playing baseball, and I want to be the best that I can be and compete on a regular basis.”
The truth is that if Howard were to continue to struggle, the decision to simply cut ties with Howard and spend the next couple of seasons eating fistfuls of money would be made a little easier. Ryan Howard could go on one of his patented tears, like he used to do, and finish the season with big power and run production numbers. That would make keeping Howard easier and could possibly even make dealing him easier, if that’s the road that the Phillies would decide to take.
Problem is that Howard could likely wind up on that in-between road. The one where he hits a few home runs and then strikes out a bunch of times before he hits the next one. That road has the Phillies going nowhere, because there is no clear cut answer; a trade would be out of the question and money simply doesn’t taste very good.
The best we can hope for is that either way, Howard gives the Phillies some easy answers with his performance over the next couple of months.