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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.