Ryan Howard is not the hitter he used to be — that much cannot be argued. One look at Howard’s stats for the 2014 season so far will bear that out. A perfect example is the Philadelphia Phillies‘ just completed series against the Washington Nationals where he went 0-for-12 and struck out five times. Howard has only homered once since June 19 and his average for the month of July is an embarrassing .106.
In the past when Howard went through slumps like this, there was usually a reason. The last two seasons he has been dealing with a list of injuries that caused him to miss 173 games and would throw even the best power hitter into a tailspin. That isn’t the case in 2014, as Howard has been healthy the whole season and appeared in almost every game.
But something is obviously wrong.
If this was Domonic Brown or Ben Revere we were talking about, it wouldn’t be as big an issue. We would just wait it out and see what happens. But the Phillies pay Howard a stunning amount of money to hit the ball and he seems incapable of doing it as of late.
Howard will make a staggering $25 million this year with another $25 million for the next two years. It’s an absurd amount of money for a player who it would seem has lost something since he was injured at the end of the 2011 NLDS. It makes Howard virtually impossible to move in a trade and it would appear the Phillies are stuck with him for the duration — unless they buy him out.
To buy out Howard’s contract would be ridiculously expensive, as the number I heard thrown around was somewhere around $60 million. And most would say that Howard might be able to right things and get his swing back. That is all well and good, but if he can’t, the Phillies are going to be paying a small fortune to a player who can’t do the one thing they have him on the team to do: hit the ball. If Ruben Amaro Jr. is dead set on a short rebuild and making the Phillies competitive again in only a few years, they might not be able to wait.
Howard is not the same power hitter he was back when he made sending baseballs into the seats look easy. And it seems more and more likely that he isn’t going to return to the form that made him the home run champion in 2006 and 2008. The Phillies might not have the luxury of just waiting things out or just letting Howard take up space in the dugout until his contract is up.
The future of the Phillies after this season is filled with tough decisions. This may be one of the toughest Amaro Jr. will have to deal with.