Will Someone Please Make Ryan Howard a DH?
Let’s talk about Ryan Howard. No, not BJ Novak’s character on The Office, but the Big Piece; the Phillie slugger who just so happened to make a guest appearance on that same show.
Now that Howard’s career in Phillie is presumably over it’s time for him to either hang up the spikes, or find a new home elsewhere. He’s a candidate that most American League team’s in need of some power should strongly consider.
Even though he’s going to be 37 years old entering the 2017 season, Howard’s last few seasons in Philadelphia imply that his numbers, and a potential suitor, could benefit from a transition to a DH role. He’s the proud owner of 382 career homers and would surely like to add onto that tally.
From 2014-2016 Howard’s innings manning first base have declined annually from 1256.1, to 957.1, to 644.1, and his range has declined as well. Over that time span he has hit a consistent 23, 23, and 25 home runs. What is interesting and should appeal to AL teams struggling to find some power is that his hard contact percentage has increased each year from 33.6%, to 37.3%, to a whopping 45.9% in 2016; the highest it’s been since 2008 (46.3). It stands to reason the drastic reduction in his exposure to the field helps him hit the ball with much more authority. He could be a seldom-used fill in at first base, but it’s clear his position-playing days are pretty much over.
Assuming a full time DH role for an AL team would almost certainly be a win-win between both sides, and it’s not like it would cost any team the annual $25 million he was making as a Phillie. So, which teams could be likely to want someone of Howard’s profile? I’m taking a shot in the dark here, but here’s a few teams that I think could at least be interested in the veteran slugger’s services:
Royals– This is possible for a few reasons. The Royals have Brandon Moss slotted as their DH to enter the season, and he is considered corner outfield depth. It’s likely that either A) Alex Gordon misses some time due to injury or B) Jorge Soler doesn’t stick in right field. Because of this, I could see Kansas City at least inquiring about Howard, and maybe both sides come to an agreement. Not incredibly likely maybe, but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible since the Royals were 27th in the majors in home runs last year.
Twins– This one might make a little more sense. Minnesota has Kennys Vargas listed as their DH as of now, and he hasn’t exactly established himself as a Major League hitter yet, to say the least. Does Vargas have potential? Absolutely, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a late deal bringing Howard to the Twins should Vargas underwhelm in Spring Training. If a cheap contract can be worked out, what does a team like the Twins really have to lose for a 1 year flyer?
Orioles– Yes, I’m aware they already have Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis, but something about this makes sense to me. Baltimore loves power, and they seem to have a ton of it every year. They took a minor gamble on Pedro Alvarez last year, and it paid off pretty well for them. Any time there’s a lingering slugger left in free agency toward the end of Spring Training, count on the O’s to try and get a solid bargain out of it.
Ryan Howard is an interesting commodity entering the 2017 season. Power is in abundance in recent seasons, so it’s possible every team passes on him and he ends his career having only ever played for the Phillies. He’ll leave behind a legacy as being one of the best hitting first basemen in his prime years, and is the last person to hit more than 55 home runs. It could be entertaining to see him play again in 2017, or maybe his time is up and he’ll call an end to a great career.
Stats taken from FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.
Photo taken from Flickr Creative Commons. dabrace1984’s photo can be seen here.