GM Ruben Amaro took two major actions at Philadelphia's organizational meetings last week. One was to distribute to all baseball personnel a handbook titled "The Phillies Way." (Do not attempt to actually read "The Phillies Way." It'll be like opening the Ark of the Covenant and your face will melt or explode.) The other was to make clear his offseason priorities of getting younger and cheaper. I can think of one plodding first baseman who could kill two birds with one stone.
Ryan Howard is, mercifully, more than halfway through the five-year, $125 million contract he signed in 2010 but didn't kick in until 10 years later. It has not been a productive contract. As of last summer, Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projected it as the single worst baseball contract of all time, a $94 million loss compared to the going rate for WAR.
But Howard still has two years remaining at $25 million each, plus a presumed $10 million buyout for 2017. (That'd be a safe presumption, as far as they go.) It won't be easy to move him, but ESPN's Buster Olney says the Phillies are indeed going to work hard on trading Howard this winter.
And what do baseball people think of Howard, who will turn 35 this month?
"His lower half has quit on him," a longtime evaluator said Monday. "He just can't move. I think of him as a .240, .250 hitter. He's not a legitimate 40-homer guy anymore; he's a legitimate 20-homer guy."
"He's a DH. He really has to be peddled to the American League, to be a DH and an occasional first baseman. He's Adam Dunn, although Adam Dunn is probably a better defender at this point than he is."
That's not encouraging! Still, the Phillies are especially desperate to get something done now, because Howard's 10-and-five rights—which would allow him to veto any trade—would kick in next summer.
No one is untradeable. If the Phillies offer to eat, say, $50 million of the $60 million Howard is still owed, some team will happily send back a middling prospect. And even if that prospect never turns into anything, he'd still have more net value to Philadelphia than Ryan Howard will. Minor victories like that, and A.J. Burnett unexpectedly opting out, are just about the only victories Amaro can come by these days. It's been a rough six years: