When Ryan Howard arrived for work on Saturday, he had the shakes and a fever, so Phillies manager Pete Mackanin sent him home. Give the aging first baseman a gold star for answering the bell, despite suffering from the virus that had been traveling through the clubhouse. But the spring is no time to be a hero, so Howard retreated to his Clearwater abode, one would imagine, to load up on ibuprofen and chicken soup.
For Howard’s sake, let’s hope his one pathetic at-bat in Friday’s scrimmage against Atlanta was impacted by the malady. If that’s the swing that Howard plans on bringing north to Philadelphia in less than four weeks, the Phils should cut him a check right now and send him out into baseball’s cruel night.
El Hombre just returned from a couple days at the Phillies’ Clearwater theme park, and it’s not just evident that Howard can’t hit. It’s obvious he doesn’t belong on a team that has more youngsters than a fraternity rush class. Howard still draws cheers from fans who simply don’t know better. Or perhaps their tribute is a “thank you” for his 2005-11 stretch, when he was clubbing home runs, and it mattered not whether defenses put 15 men on the right side of the infield. That area was Citizens Bank Park’s equivalent of Nebraska and Kansas, flyover states on the way to somewhere better. For Howard, that preferred destination was Dingerville, and Howard went there 284 times in 1,008 games.
So, we tip our hat to Howard for his roles in the 2008 World Series title and the ’09 NL championship. But he simply doesn’t belong on this team, which is selling fans hope and a brighter future. Watching J.P. Crawford pick it at short, Mikael Franco blast the ball, and assorted sundry hopefuls from the farm make the Phils look like a real organization for a change is fun. Suffering through Howard’s inability to divine what the opposing pitcher is throwing is painful.
You might say that Carlos Ruiz is in the same position, and there’s some merit to that argument—except for one thing: Ruiz doesn’t fashion himself as a star anymore. He’s perfectly content to play the role of backup catcher and pass on his knowledge and experience to younger players. While Howard isn’t stingy with his advice, he still considers himself an everyday player—something he’s definitely not. He was awful against lefties last year, and the early returns indicate that his hitting skills have atrophied against righties, too. Having Howard on the roster forces Mackanin to play him, at the expense of finding out whether Brock Stassi can handle the lefthanded part of the first-base platoon.
Although there are reports that an improved rotation and some greater depth in the outfield will help the Phillies be more competitive, there can be no illusion that contention is even a consideration this season. This is about seeing what’s in the pipeline and making some decisions about what’s needed for the future. It’s clear Howard isn’t part of that tomorrow, and if the Phils are keeping him around to draw fans, they should eliminate that hallucination immediately. Howard has little to no drawing power and no reasonable job on this team. It’s time to pay the man and remove one of the final vestiges of Ruben Amaro’s catastrophic reign.
The Phillies have a chance to win back fans this year with a young group that will be long on effort and potential, if painfully short on wins. That’s the team’s identity, and Howard cannot be part of it. Cut the check, folks. It’s time.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: By this time next week, Villanova will know whether it has earned a top seed in the NCAA tournament and a chance at playing some games in Philadelphia. Saint Joseph’s and Temple hope to be preparing for tourney games, too, although neither is a lock to reach the round of 68, like ‘Nova is. The Hawks are in better shape, but would do well to win at least one A-10 tourney game, while the Owls must realize that two AAC tournament wins might not even get it done … Re-signing Sam Bradford was absolutely the right move. The Eagles had no other real QB option, and locking up Bradford for two years allows them to compete in a shaky division and permits them to draft a quarterback in the middle rounds and develop him. Now, the team must sign Fletcher Cox. Immediately.