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Phillies must trade or release Ryan Howard
by Scott Butler 11/2/14

The 2014 season is over and now the Phillies' offseason finally begins. To borrow a line from Justin Klugh of the Good Phight:

Youth! Rebuilding! Pamphlets! It is a time of great change for the Phillies.

After persuading himself (or trying and failing miserably to convince fans) that the Phillies still had a chance of winning prior to consecutive losing seasons, Ruben Amaro is now a man with a plan (or a man delivering a plan dropped on his desk from Pat Gillick with a sticky note stating DELIVER THIS MESSAGE OR DIE).

Last week, Amaro unveiled his organization strategy in a handbook he calls The Phillies Way. Here is the gist of it from Matt Gelb:

"More than anything else, we're trying to get younger first and foremost," Amaro said. "That's the main priority. We're trying to have a shift, a process where - whether you want to call it rebuilding, or redevelopment, or whatever you want to call it - it's time for us to change gears and look for younger, more controllable players we think can help build us a new core and move it forward."

Amaro identified Cody Asche, Maikel Franco, Darin Ruf, Ben Revere, and Domonic Brown as players to build around. He wants to foster a better developmental environment at the major-league level.

"Those are all younger players who need to be surrounded by quality people and players who can help us develop them as players and people," Amaro said.

The development of four of the five players identified by Amaro is hindered by the presence of one player: Ryan Howard.

David Murphy estimated that if the Phillies trade Ryan Howard, they will receive about $3 million of the $60 million owed to him. I’m hear to tell you the Phillies should take that deal and be glad about it.

If The Phillies Way is worth anything more than a 1-ply material people use for their daily business, they have no choice but to get rid of The Big Piece at all costs. In fact, it should be the first item on their list.

Moving him has more to do with those players he is blocking than it does with Howard specifically, but we aren't having this discussion if Howard was producing, so let's start there.

Ryan Howard is nowhere near the player he was during his 2006 MVP season. Duh. But Howard barely resembles the player he was when he began his decline during the 2010 season. Let me demonstrate just how far Howard has descended with some help from his second base buddy, whose performance has also dropped like an F-bomb on a 2008 Halloween parade. We get a good glimpse by comparing Howard and Utley not to their best seasons, but to the seasons in which they first showed signs of decline, which happened to be 2010 for both of them.

Utley first. In the five seasons from 2005 to 2009, Utley averaged an OPS of .923, but in 2010 he finished with an .832 OPS. That is a drop of 91 points and our starting point for Utley.

Now Howard. In the five seasons from 2005 to 2009, Howard averaged a .959 OPS, but that figure dropped exactly 100 points to .859 in 2010. That is our starting point for Howard.

In the four seasons since 2010, Utley's average OPS has dropped another 49 points to .783, which equates to a decline of 6%.

In the four seasons since 2010, Howard's average OPS has dropped another 102 points to .757, which equates to a decline of 12% and double that of Utley. Chase's decline has been enormous, yet since 2010, Howard has declined twice as much as Chase Utley.

For Ryan Howard, it gets much, much worse when we focus on 2014. Howard's .690 OPS last season is 30% lower than his second best .976 OPS in 2007 (and 36% lower than his 1.084 OPS in 2006).

His OPS ranked 9th on the team among players with at least 100 at-bats, just above little Ben Revere. In slugging percentage, Howard ranked eighth, two spots and 19 points above Revere. 

Combining his lack of production with a high strikeout rate, complete lack of speed (granted, not his fault) and poor fielding at the easiest defensive position, Ryan Howard barely deserves a Spring Training invite and a spot on the bench, let alone a full-time roster spot.

Howard's decline serves as a backdrop for the bigger issue (mentioned in Amaro's wonderful piece of literature) of his impact on the progression of his younger teammates:

Darin Ruf: Other than riding the bench, Ruf's only option is left field, where he can either be the starting leftfielder and steal time from Domonic Brown, or he can platoon with Brown, eliminating at-bats for both. In any scenario, valuable playing time is lost in full or in part by someone.

Maikel Franco/Cody Asche: In scenario one, Franco platoons with Asche at third, cutting playing time for both players. In scenario two, Franco starts at third and forces Asche to move to another position (perhaps left field, where Brown and Ruf will be competing already) or return to the minors. In scenario three, Franco returns to the minors.

Domonic Brown: His only position is left field, so any scenario in which he is splitting time in leftfield guarantees less at-bats.

One thing I failed to mention in the above scenarios is that Asche can also play second base and the Phillies just so happen to have a second baseman who desperately needs to move to an easier defensive position.

With Howard off the roster, it allows the Phillies to move Utley to first, leaving three positions open for four players. Given the need for Utley to rest regularly, that means even more chances for the young guys to play. Here is how it shakes out with Utley at first:

1B - Utley
2B - Asche
3B - Franco
LF - Ruf/Brown

Utley at first is the ideal scenario, but it works about the same with Franco or Ruf at first:

1B - Franco
2B - Utley
3B - Asche
LF - Brown/Ruf

1B - Ruf
2B - Utley
3B - Franco/Asche
LF - Brown

Remember, rebuilding essentially means that wins and losses take a back seat to improving for the future. The Phillies will not win a championship in any of the above non-Howard scenarios, but it gets the Phillies younger and gives them a clear indication of who is or is not part of the 2017 potentially contending Phillies.

It is time for the Phillies to bite the $60 million bullet and present Ryan Howard with a map of The Phillies Way which leads him right out the door.

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