Despite Prince Fielder Deal, Ryan Howard Is Still Untradable

Over at The Good Phight, Joe Catz has a thoughtful article up about the changing marketplace, particularly after the Prince Fielder/Ian Kinsler swap between the Tigers and Rangers. The Tigers, of course, shed themselves of the nine-year, $214 million Fielder contract after just two years and $46 million. They sent $30 million along with Fielder in the trade while taking on Kinsler and his remaining five years and $75 million. This has led many to speculate that a Ryan Howard trade is a possibility. (To clarify, Joe Catz does not make this claim, though Howard’s photo does accompany the article.)

As eager as many are to be relieved of the burden that is Howard’s remaining three years and $85 million, it may be wishful thinking more than anything. Howard and Fielder really have nothing left in common other than that they’re both big and have traditionally hit for power from the left side. Howard tore his Achilles in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals and hasn’t been the same since. He tore his meniscus back in July as well. He will enter the 2014 season at 34 years old with 151 games played over his last two seasons and two serious lower-half injuries in his medical file. Fielder, meanwhile, has played in all 162 games in four out of the last five seasons. That other season? 161 games. And he’s not even 30 yet.

Howard has a severe platoon split, as we have pointed out here throughout the years. Over his career, Howard has put up a .996 OPS against right-handed pitching compared to .728 against lefties. In 2013 alone, the split was .878/.539. Fielder has traditionally hit right-handers better as well, but the gap isn’t as severe. Over his career, his split is .971/.803. He posted the exact same OPS (.819) against both sides in 2013. Taking this information, along with Howard’s increasing lack of plate discipline (7% walks, 30% strikeouts in 2013), and Howard is realistically a platoon player at first base while you can certainly live with Fielder facing left-handers.

Howard doesn’t have anywhere near the value Fielder has, currently. The Phillies could eat the remaining $85 million remaining on his deal and teams still wouldn’t give up a worthwhile player — certainly not one like Kinsler. The Brewers have considered trading for Mets first baseman Ike Davis, who has fallen far from grace since a power surge in 2012. You couldn’t convince the Brewers, desperate for first base help, to take Howard and give up much of anything beyond a bucket of baseballs and a gift card to Applebee’s.

As a result, Howard has much more value to the Phillies than he will have to any other team. The best the Phillies can hope for is that Howard is able to bounce back and have productive seasons in 2014-15 to rebuild his value, then trade him with one year and a 2017 club option remaining, totaling $35-48 million. Then, and only then, would Howard have any value.

The Vernon Wells deal between the Angels and Yankees last March may be a more realistic comparison. The Yankees sent two non-prospects — Exicardo Cayones and Kramer Sneed — to the Angels for Wells. The Angels agreed to cover a healthy portion of Wells’ remaining salary, leaving the Yankees to pay only $14 million of his remaining $42 million salary. Rather than be on the hook for all of Wells’ remaining $42 million, the Angels are responsible for only $28 million, a 33 percent decrease. The Phillies are best geared to return to contention in 2016 and beyond anyway, so a little salary relief might be all they would want to ask for anyway.

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29 comments

  1. joecatz

    November 23, 2013 01:40 PM

    I agree with all of this 1000% BTW.

    one thing I should clarify regarding the Howard Photo in that piece. If I had it to do all over again I would have used a shot of Jacoby Ellsbury instead.

    For me, the Kinsler/Fielder swap (along with the Crawford,AGon,Wells, beckett, reyes, buehrle deals of recent years, along with what I expect to be one of the dodgers OF going away very soon) is more indicative of a trend in the game among larger market teams to capitalize on free agency.

    In essence, you sign a player to a 6-7 year long term deal with the idea that you WILL trade him if necessary two to three years in, and eat some cash.

    The sheer lack of teams that can do this makes it something that the Phillies really should be looking at, either in terms of acquiring talent (Matt Kemp, for example via trade) or in free agency.

  2. joecatz

    November 23, 2013 01:49 PM

    I think with the Wells deal too Bill, one thing that gets lost there is that Wells was literally, on that team, a 6th OF, behind Trout, Trumbo, Hamilton, Bourjos, with shuck and Calhoun there as well.

    They had no place to use him at all, and plenty of options.

    the other issue with a howard trade is that UNLESS you feel Darin Ruf is your every day 1B, along with finding a trade partner, AND eating the cash that goes along with it, you still need to find a 1B somewhere.

    So even if you could pull off a deal right now that sends Howard someplace, and you eat just half of his money, or 12.5mm a year, you still end up spending probably 8-10 for a guy like mike more to replace him.

    and that guy effectively costs you 22.5mm AND the prospects you sent out.

    There’s literally no way you can trade Howard and make it work for the team unless he gets to the point where he’s producing.

    And if he’s producing, why trade him, unless you think he’s going to regress again?

    it’s a vicious circle.

  3. Bubba0101

    November 23, 2013 02:50 PM

    I think of it this way. We potentially need to get Maikel Franco on the field asap being as he is our only realistic prospect that can contribute to producing runs. Should Asche show he is capable to man 3b, Franco should start playing first base. And if for some reason unknown to mankind Ryan Howard has a good first half and we arent in contention for a playoff spot at the all star break, we could eat 90% of his contract in a trade for the Applebees gift card, and get Franco up to the bigs asap. I have to think there is a team out there with a platoon option at first and the need for a DH. Its a far stretch to consider and many things would have to fall into place but Im hopeful…

  4. Bill Baer

    November 23, 2013 02:55 PM

    I’m not sure if 2014 is the year you want to bring Franco up. For all intents and purposes, the Phillies aren’t going to make the playoffs, so why start his service time before you have to? If you use Franco now, he hits arbitration from 2017-19 and becomes a free agent going into 2020. If you keep him in AAA until calling him up in September (September call-ups aren’t charged service time), the Phillies can keep him through 2020.

  5. Andrew Cleveland Alexander

    November 23, 2013 03:14 PM

    As a small point of hope, I’d like to bring up a potential bounce-back precedent: Big Papi. In his age 32-34 seasons, he saw an OPS dropoff that was comparable to Howard’s in his age 31-33 seasons. Ortiz came back in 2012 and had a huge season before going down with an injury, and then OPSed .959 this year, though he still missed 30 games.

    I’m not suggesting that Howard will bounce back to that level, Ortiz was a better hitter for a longer time before experiencing his decline, but I am saying there’s at least a chance that he makes some adjustment and returns to something resembling his 2009-2010 form. Of course, I’m not considering the nature of Ortiz’s adjustments, whether they were perhaps chemical.

    Anyway, I’m just saying there could be some hope. [Covers head with hands, ducks beneath desk.]

  6. Matt

    November 23, 2013 03:24 PM

    I’d be okay with trading Howard for salary relief. Open up 1st base and let Ruf platoon there with somebody, and rid yourself of half of Howard’s contract dead weight maybe.

  7. joecatz

    November 23, 2013 04:27 PM

    2 things.

    1. enough with the rushing Franco stuff. There is very litte upside to it. he loses a ton of value at 1B, and you have to let Asche develop to be able to get trade value from either of them. what you need to determine is who you WANT at 3B between them, and you let that happen organically. You don;t force Franco off of 3B after seeing 2 months of Cody Asche.

    2. There is no “salary relief” when it comes to trading Howard. You eat so much money, in any deal that the relief is a burden. You’re not getting prospect value back, and few dollars you do get back are not enough to make up Howards production anyway.

  8. Schufan

    November 23, 2013 05:56 PM

    There are perhaps some creative possibilities, say the Phillies eating most of Howard’s salary in a deal where the other team agrees to take on most/all of Papelbon’s salary. It’s unlikely but not outlandish – a contending team essentially buying both Howard and Papelbon for approximately $15-20 M for a pennant push. But a trade like that only happens if Howard is healthy and reasonably productive, and if that’s the case than ol’ Rube will just be buying more senior citizens rather than trading.

    But it’s hard to envision any deal just involving Howard that makes sense either for the Phils or for anyone else.

  9. Bubba0101

    November 23, 2013 07:51 PM

    Bill,

    You’re absolutely right. In hypothetical (delusional???) my situation Franco would be coming up to play on a bad team so why waste that year of controllability. If we are competitive then Ryan Howard probably has a lot to do with it so might as well keep him. Thats why you run a baseball centric site and I do what I do, which has nothing to do with baseball.

  10. Bubba0101

    November 23, 2013 08:00 PM

    Joe,

    I definitely dont want to rush Franco up unnecessarily but if this guy mashes at AAA for half a season and Asche shows he is a big league third baseman then what are our choices? That’s a serious question by the way. Its a good problem to have. One that we have not had in seemingly forever but how can we get both of these guys in the lineup asap, taking into account Bill’s previous comments of course.

  11. Joecatz

    November 23, 2013 10:37 PM

    Bubba,

    That’s exactly what you hope happens. When it does, you pick the one you want to bank the future on and trade the other one. It’s not a difficult decision.

    The chances of both Asche and Franco being here in 2016 are about as likely as Jaime Moyer pitching for the phillies in the World Series this year.

    Il be half shocked if one of them isn’t traded before the deadline to be honest

  12. Joecatz

    November 23, 2013 10:38 PM

    And what I mean by that is that Franco has more trade value as a 3B than he does as a 1B on the field. Even if he never plays a game at 3B. The second you move him to 1B his value plummets.

    And if Franco is for real, and Asche has a good first half Asche goes.

  13. Bubba0101

    November 24, 2013 12:21 PM

    Yeah I see your point. I dont want to give up young, proven talent in that case. I guess it would depend on the return though. I think it would be better to fit “the other one” at a position where we could use the help. Regardless, I hope we see that situation because it would mean that we actually have two young, good players.

  14. Bob

    November 24, 2013 02:52 PM

    Should’ve traded Asche for Bourjos. Too late now. Angels value players like Phillies, so they probably wouldn’t have accepted Asche anyway. They’d rather have a broken down Freese.

  15. awh

    November 24, 2013 05:39 PM

    “I’m not sure if 2014 is the year you want to bring Franco up. For all intents and purposes, the Phillies aren’t going to make the playoffs, so why start his service time before you have to? If you use Franco now, he hits arbitration from 2017-19 and becomes a free agent going into 2020. If you keep him in AAA until calling him up in September (September call-ups aren’t charged service time), the Phillies can keep him through 2020.”

    Bill, I don’t agree with this type of one-dimensional thinking. What should determine whether you call up a player is what effect it has on his development. Nothing else.

    Now, I understand the thinking, but I don’t agree with it.

    Whether they have Franco – one player – around for one more year of low cost control is not going to be that relevant in the long term.

    They’re going to have enough money very soon, from the new TV contract, that it’s really not going to matter at all whether they have to extend him at market rates a year earlier – assuming they even want to.

    Focusing on service time rather than what’;s best for the player’s development is short sighted indeed.

  16. Bill Baer

    November 24, 2013 06:48 PM

    That assumes that Franco would be willing to sign an extension rather than test the free agent market, which isn’t always a given.

  17. Bubba0101

    November 24, 2013 08:35 PM

    AWH,

    I think just bringing up a prospect asap is one dimensional and short sighted. Franco hasnt had a single AAA at bat yet so keeping him at AAA for a year so that they have him under control for an extra year wont stunt any growth or slow any development. Especially if the team stinks again anyway. He would get a September call up, like Bill said earlier and still get some big league looks anyway if he plays well in AAA.

  18. hk

    November 25, 2013 06:40 AM

    awh,

    1. Just because a business is flush with high revenues, doesn’t mean that it should unnecessarily spend money or use an asset in a cost ineffective way.

    2. Prospect development is an inexact science. It’s impossible to say with foresight whether it will be best for Franco to play 0 months, 5 months (April 2014 through August 2014) or 7+ months (April 2014 through August 2014 plus April and May 2015) in AAA. As such, the team would be foolish to ignore team-centric considerations (e.g. delaying service time and how much the team needs him) in deciding when to promote him.

  19. derekcarstairs

    November 25, 2013 07:46 AM

    I am a baseball fan first, a Phillies fan second. If a team has a star player and he’s ready for the majors, I want to see him in the majors. My favorite thing in baseball is watching star players arrive in the majors young, achieve early success, and have long, productive careers.

    When Franco is ready, I want him playing for the Phillies, not the AAA team. Of course, if Franco is not the star we hope he is and if we would be overmatched in the bigs, there is no point in rushing him.

    From the Phillies’ standpoint, it does make sense to keep Franco down on the farm in 2014 if the team will not contend. One can also argue that it’s best to keep a player down on the farm until the major-league team is most likely to get his six most productive consecutive years. If the player is a star, I, as a baseball fan, don’t accept either position.

  20. Eric

    November 25, 2013 09:42 AM

    Any chance of a Howard/Ruf platoon? I didn’t realize the split was that bad last year. .530 ops against lefties. Whoa!

  21. BobSmith77

    November 25, 2013 12:02 PM

    I agree that Howard is untradeable right now but as for next season it depends on what he does offensively next year.

    The bigger issue is that it would require Amaro and to a lesser degree Montgomery admit they made a huge mistake in the Howard extension. I can’t see them making this move as long as Amaro is the GM of the team.

  22. joecatz

    November 25, 2013 12:23 PM

    yeah I don’t buy that arguement Bob. If Ruben could get out of Howards contract right now he’d do it in a heartbeat.

  23. JohnMatrix

    November 25, 2013 12:38 PM

    the 162 games fielder played, wasnt that at DH?

  24. hk

    November 25, 2013 12:40 PM

    JohnMatrix,

    Fielder was Detroit’s 1B. Victor Martinez was their primary DH.

  25. hk

    November 25, 2013 12:48 PM

    In order for the Phillies to get themselves into a position in which a trade of Howard is even reasonable to consider, Howard would have to prove that he’s healthy and that he can at a minimum produce vs. RHP’s. Of course, if Howard is healthy and is platooned (as Eric suggests above and many others have suggested previously), there’s reason to expect that he can still produce enough (maybe a .365 or better wOBA) to beg the question of whether it would even be worth paying a large portion of his salary to get rid of him.

  26. Rob

    November 25, 2013 02:56 PM

    The question for 2014 is what do we have on the roster and in the system for the future. Is Galvis or Crawford our next SS. Is Ruf a real major league power hitter? Is Asche what he seemed until he slumped toward the end of the season. Is Franco for real? Right now he is in the midst of hitting slump in Winter ball, hitting only .255. Is Rupp or Joseph our next catcher? Can Diekman or Rosenberg become flame throwing closers?
    If the Phillies have affirmative answers to these questions as the next season moves along, they can talk about dumping Howard and Papelbon just for salary relief.

  27. Phillie697

    November 26, 2013 01:56 PM

    @Andrew Cleveland Alexander,

    Which David Ortiz are you looking at? The same David Ortiz who put up wOBA of .372, .342, and.382 in those seasons you speak of? And the .342 season was accompanied by a healthy 11.8 BB% and 21.4 K%, along with an unlucky .262 BABIP against a career .305 BABIP. Even when Ortiz was “bad,” he was good.

    Ryan Howard, on the other hand, is just bad. Plus, Ryan Howard doesn’t get to hide his defensive deficiencies by DHing 129 out of 135 games. Sorry, there is NO chance Ryan Howard makes a Ortiz-like “comback,” if only because the aforementioned “comeback” wasn’t really that great to begin with, and if that’s the kind of improvement you are wishing from Ryan Howard, he’d still be terribad.

  28. LTG

    November 26, 2013 09:41 PM

    In fairness to ACA, Ortiz was a 100 wRC+ hitter in 2009. Howard has only had one year with a wRC+ equal or less than that: 2012 when he was playing hurt. Even in 2013 Howard posted a 111 wRC+. Since 2010, Ortiz’s wRC+s have been 134, 154, 170, and 152. So from league average to more than 50% better than league average in two years. How is that not a great comeback? ACA’s narrative is off by 2 years, but that doesn’t mean it is false in toto.

    If Howard improved on last year’s wRC+ the way Ortiz did from 2009 to 2010 (34%), Howard would be posting ~150 wRC+. That would be his best since 2006. YES PLEASE!

    And it is not clear that anyone should be hiding Howard at DH. The DH positional penalty is 5 runs worse than the 1B penalty. Only in two seasons (2010 and 2012) has Howard clearly been a bad enough defender that the team would have gotten more runs out of Howard if he had batted but not fielded.

  29. Phillie697

    December 03, 2013 12:02 PM

    @LTG,

    Apparently you didn’t read what I wrote about 2009 that addressed your point, the 11.8 BB% and 21.4 K% with the .262 BABIP, stats that Ryan Howard do not have. Ortiz did drop in production in 2009, but he was also quite unlucky as well, so his wRC+ didn’t reflect his true abilities. I don’t think anyone can make that same argument for Howard.

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