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Why I Would Trade Ryan Howard

Last night, two friends of mine – a Braves fan and a Red Sox fan – argued with me about trading Ryan Howard. They couldn’t believe I’d even fathom such an idea. I’ve suggested in the past the possibility of trading Howard, but today I wanted to bring my case up front.

Why I Would Trade Ryan Howard

It sounds almost ridiculous that a team in the top half of the payroll list contending for a World Series would want to trade its biggest power hitter, a man capable of hitting 60 home runs. But there are reasons to think heavily about dumping Howard.

Position

Howard is an average at best first baseman in the field. He seems more adept to becoming a designated hitter, and as one he would be the most feared hitter in baseball, bar none. Any American League team (maybe this side of Boston) would want to take Howard as its DH for the next six years.

Moreover, the Phils will encounter some obstacles with their current position players. If they want to hold onto Pat Burrell, they could slot him at first base with a new contract. If they drop Burrell, Chase Utley could slide over to first where he’d seemingly be more comfortable. Both moves allow top hitting prospect Adrian Cardenas to find an everyday spot, either at left field or second base. In essence, losing Howard doesn’t just mean gaining young players, but also giving Cardenas a chance to play everyday.

Attitude

In the past few months we’ve seen somewhat of a shift in Howard’s attitude toward Philadelphia. Maybe it’s not the truth, but I’ve noticed him to be much more indifferent and even arrogant toward his home city. Part of it might be the arbitration issue; part of it might be he just wants to play somewhere else. Then again, this may not even be an issue.

Still, one wonders why the usually happy-go-lucky slugger hasn’t really been happy-go-lucky this season.

Money

Ryan Howard wants to make big bucks, especially if he’s not getting a long-term deal. This season he’s making $10M, the largest arbitration victory ever. Experts say a $20M arbitration prize before 2010 isn’t out of the question. That means a long-term deal would mean potentially $25MM per year.

A Howard deal is earning comparisons with deals for Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and even Alex Rodriguez. Their deals:

  • Pujols (2004): $7M, $11M, $14M, $15M, $16M, $16M, $16M + $5M = 7Y/$100M
  • Cabrera (2008): $11.3M, $15M, $20M, $21M, $21M, $22M, $22M = 8Y/$152.3M
  • Rodriguez (2008): $27M, $32M, $32M, $31M, $29M, $28M, $25M, $21M, $20M, $20M = 10Y/$275M

Here is what the players had accomplished before their deals:

  • Pujols (3Y): 475 G, 114 HR, 381 RBI, 220 BB, 227 K, .333 AVG
  • Cabrera (4.5Y): 720 G, 138 HR, 523 RBI, 322 BB, 592 K, .312 AVG
  • Rodriguez (12.5Y): 1904 G, 518 HR, 1503 RBI, 915 BB, 1524 K, .306 AVG

And Howard thus far:

  • Howard (3Y): 423 G, 132 HR, 359 RBI, 261 BB, 510 K, .288 AVG

Despite the huge home run totals, it’s easy to see Howard is not on the Pujols, Cabrera or Rodriguez level. He doesn’t deserve the $25M or so he could gain a couple years. A deal for him should really top out at $15M-$17M at its peak year, like:

  • $10M, $12M, $12M, $16M, $16M, $16M + $8M = 6Y/$82M

It seems Howard wants much more than that — he’s not worth more than that.

Value

And while Howard might not be worth the $20M-$25M he’ll likely seek per year in a long-term deal, some teams would want to throw that money at him. To put it bluntly: Howard is a face of Major League Baseball. He’s one of the most recognizable players in the world. With new endorsement deals and an easygoing personality, his value surpasses anything he does on the field.

Teams with money to burn will want to throw extra bucks to get the big man, especially if he’s a missing piece or that franchise face a team desperately needs. The Phillies? They have Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Brett Myers, Pat Burrell and Cole Hamels, who is much more a priority for a long-term deal than Howard.

If the Phils trade away Howard, they’re not rebuilding because they have other pieces in place that can lead them to the World Series. So why not trade your biggest chip for other chips that could complete the puzzle?

What The Return Should Be

If I’m trading Ryan Howard, I want huge potential in return. Let’s look at recent deals involving big-name players:

  • Twins acquire OF Carlos Gomez, RHP Philip Humber, RHP Kevin Mulvey and RHP Deolis Guerra from the New York Mets for LHP Johan Santana.
  • Orioles acquire OF Adam Jones, LHP George Sherrill, RHP Chris Tillman, RHP Kam Mickolio and LHP Tony Butler from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for LHP Erik Bedard.
  • Athletics acquire LHP Brett Anderson, LHP Dana Eveland, LHP Greg Smith, INF Chris Carter and OF Aaron Cunningham and OF Carlos Gonzalez for Dan Haren and Connor Robertson.
  • Marlins acquire RHP Burke Badenhop, RHP Eulogio De La Cruz, RHP Dallas Trahern, LHP Andrew Miller, C Mike Rabelo and OF Cameron Maybin for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

In each deal, each team acquired a Baseball America top-40 prospect, either from 2008 or 2007. Major League-ready talent was also handed over. It seems as if the Orioles and A’s got good returns, while the Twins waited too long and couldn’t grab a top-10 prospect for Santana. The key, obviously, is timing. Bedard and Haren had career years and were young enough to be moved for a lot of return. Cabrera too.

If the Phillies trade Ryan Howard within the calendar year, and if I’m running the ship, I’d want:

  • A national top pitching prospect ready to start immediately.
  • A national top-100 hitting prospect (A+ or higher), preferably at third base.
  • A Major-League ready pitcher younger than 28.
  • A team top-15 prospect.
  • A team top-30 prospect.

Which Teams Fit The Profile

When seeking trading partners for Howard, you have to start in the American League, and with teams that can afford a potential long-term deal equaling $150M. There are some NL possibilities. These teams are:

New York Yankees

The obvious perfect partner. Their current 1B/DH, Jason Giambi, is in the last year of his monster deal, and he’s been horrific at the plate. They could pair Howard in the middle of the lineup with the game’s best righty, Alex Rodriguez. Howard would become a face of New York and gain even more endorsement deals.

Who we could get in return: RHP Ian Kennedy, OF Austin Jackson, RHP Chris Britton, RHP David Robertson, 3B Marcos Vechionacci

Baltimore Orioles

They may not want to trade because they are rebuilding, but the team could use a franchise player like Howard to lift the team back in the AL East. They have enough to hand over without giving up on their top draws (Nick Markakis, Adam Jones).

Who we could get in return: LHP Troy Patton, OF Nolan Reimold, RHP Dennis Sarfate, RHP Jim Hoey, 3B Mike Costanzo

Texas Rangers

I’d bet the Rangers would want to make a hard play at Howard, as they’ve lacked any real spotlight persona since A-Rod left. And they have the money to pay Howard.

Who we could get in return: RHP Eric Hurley, 3B Chris Davis, RHP Josh Rupe, RHP Tommy Hunter, OF Christian Santana

San Francisco Giants

The one National League team I can see making a real push for Howard. They have a hole at first base and would definitely love to make him the new face of the franchise after Barry Bonds’ tenure ended there. He’d be instantly loved by the bay.

Who we could get in return: RHP Tim Alderson, 3B Angel Villalona, LHP Erick Threets, LHP Clayon Tanner, OF Ben Copeland

Other potential suitors: Boston Red Sox (can’t see it happening with Ortiz there), Tampa Bay Rays (only if they decide to raise their payroll significantly), Toronto Blue Jays (keep an eye on them), Chicago White Sox (would they take on another Philly 1B?), Cleveland Indians (big dark horse), Seattle Mariners (see Toronto), New York Mets (can’t see the Phils really wanting to trade him there), Los Angeles Dodgers (James Loney has a grip on first for years), Chicago Cubs (they’ve ponied up for more before).

Of the possibilities, the Yankees have the best match, and can be flexible with other top prospects (it would be hard prying Kennedy from them).

Bottom Line

I’m not saying the Phils should deal Howard today, or even ever. But they should look into it at some point. I’d say the next 12 months is a good period to look for partners and – if the price is right – pull the trigger on a deal.

Let’s be honest – Howard isn’t getting his big bucks with the Phillies; either he is unhappy until his arbitration years end or there’s a growing rift between the organization and the slugger; he could be dealt at the end of the process for a lot less value in return.

If the Phillies decide they want to stay a frugal big-market team, a team that doesn’t want to spend big money to compete with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets, they should know they can at least get a lot in return for Ryan Howard within the next year. But they have to make that decision.

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