To be fair, there isn’t really much left of Ryan Howard for us to lose. The guy who once socked 58 dingers in a single season and swung his bat like it was a piece of artillery has been gone for a while now. What’s remained is a husk earning $25 million to strike out a lot. Now, that poor sap is being sent to the bench.
For exactly how long remains to be seen. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin met with Howard this week, and told his struggling first baseman that he would be riding the bench for at least the next three games. Howard is hitting .153/.214/.340, and his spot in the lineup will go to rookie Tommy Joseph. When asked if Joseph could play well enough to take the starting job for good, Mackanin didn’t rule out the possibility. “Possibly. Hey, we like him. We’ll see what he does,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Even if Howard jumps right back into the lineup after three or four days off, the Phillies have officially entered the “Okay, so, now it’s time to actually get rid of this guy” phase that is sure to be awkward. Howard, once the face of the franchise, is in the last year of his historically ill-advised $125 million contract, and the Phillies have spent the last few seasons trying and failing to find a trade partner willing to take on his massive salary. They can’t trade him and they can’t play him, and unless they are able to negotiate some sort of early buyout, benching him is all that remains.
It’s one thing to let a $25 million albatross play out every day of his last season on a bad team, but the Phillies are much more competitive than they expected to be this year. A 26-27 team may not be a serious playoff contender, but it’s not a team that can justify keeping a player as useless as Howard in the lineup every day.
Howard has been sub-replacement level since 2014, and it’s time for the Phillies to move on. Nobody wants to watch a former star spend his last season on the bench, but management owes it to the fans and the rest of the players to field the best team possible. Best-case scenario is Howard fashions himself into a useful pinch hitter, and maybe even clubs a few clutch homers in the late innings, for old time’s sake.