Most of the pre-season Phillies chatter is centered around the club’s long-awaited makeover. The Phillies have finally received a much needed infusion of youth courtesy of a number of trades. A considerable amount of focus will be on the possible stars of tomorrow, Nick Williams, Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson, who will hone their skills in Triple-A.
The Phillies shed all of their aging stars from the most glorious run in their long history. But Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz will be back for one final season. Howard, who will make $25 million for the 2016 season and receive a $10 million buyout for 2017, will be the white elephant in the room when spring training commences. Like Ruiz, Howard is untradeable.
“It’s obvious what has happened to Ryan Howard,” a NL scout said. “He never really recovered from that injury (Achillies in 2011) and he has just gotten older. He’s obviously not anywhere near as productive as he once was. But when he was productive, he was very productive. The Phillies might not have won that World Series without him. He was that good. Just look at the numbers.”
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From 2006 to 2009, no hitter was more productive than Ryan Howard. The Big Piece’s numbers trumped Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz during that historic four-year run, which yielded three division titles, two pennants and a World Series title for the Phillies.
There were some pundits who believed that Howard’s home run total was padded by the bandbox in South Philadelphia but after the hulking slugger mashed a shot into the third deck in right field off the Yankees Mike Mussina, the opposing manager Joe Torre just laughed when asked about the missile.
“That ball would have gone out of any park, including Yellowstone,” Torre cracked. But the iconic manager expounded further on Howard. “His home run totals aren’t due to this ballpark,” Torre said. “Most of the homers I’ve seen him hit are way out of the park. Can you imagine what his numbers are going to be like when he retires?
When Howard finally hangs up his spikes after he most likely starts a second career as a DH, his stats will be very impressive. Only 86 players in the history of the game have hit more than his 357 homers. The odds are that Howard will finish in the top 100 in RBIs. Sure, Howard’s body betrayed him, he was less than average defensively and he never adjusted to the shift. But he was an offensive force, who was the hitter pitchers loathed to face.
Perhaps Phillies fans will tip their cap to Howard during his swan song of a season.
“The fans should pay tribute to him,” a NL scout said. “The smart fans will do that. He’s not who he once was but when he was in his prime, he was one of those rare guys, who had no problem being THE guy, That’s a difficult commodity to find in baseball. They’ll be very lucky to find someone like him during their rebuild.”