2012 Spring Training

The Pros and Cons of an Early Return for Howard

PHOTO: Todd Zolecki

We already know that Ryan Howard is ahead of his projected recovery schedule. Earlier today, Ruben Amaro Jr. said: (via Todd Zolecki)

“I don’t know how realistic it is. We all like to try to be optimistic. But as far as I’m concerned, if he comes back sometime in May, I’m happy. Ryan’s rehab is going well. He’s going to have good days. He’s going to have some not-so-good days. But he’s doing well, and that’s all we can ask. It’s a process we’ll let play out. We’re not in any rush to get him back.”

But imagine this: At some point in Spring Training, Ryan Howard is given the ‘OK’ to play again. He eases his way back into the swing of things and eventually finds himself 100% healthy by Opening Day. What would the Phillies do? What should they do? What would be the pros and cons of such a twist?

First, this unlikely scenario would present a few problems for the Phils. Remember, Ruben Amaro spent time and money this off-season compensating for Howard’s expected absence. Additions like Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, and even Laynce Nix were signed because of the hole that Howard will leave. Those were three quality additions which, with the inclusion of  John Mayberry Jr., would create a clog at first base.

Let’s evaluate the pros and cons of an early Howard return for each player…

Jim Thome

Pro: Thome cannot play everyday anyway, and the less innings he sees at first, the better it is for the Phillies.

Con: Thome was brought in mainly to be a big left-handed bat off the bench, filling in at first base at most a few times a week. If Howard comes back by Opening Day, the second part of Thome’s role would all but be eliminated. He would be relegated to  Ross Gload‘s role of the last two years, Matt Stairs‘ old role before him. This would be bittersweet, as we all want to see more Thome.

Ty Wigginton

Pro: There will not be any positives for Wigginton or the Phillies if Howard comes back. He is best suited for a large role on a team, not as a bench player.

Con: Wigginton will most likely be the Opening Day first basemen. He is a versatile infielder–5,000-plus innings at third base, 1,900 innings at first and nearly 1,300 innings at second. He also has over 1,000 innings played in the outfield, which would make him an option to fill in there. But if Howard is ready to step in, Wigginton would most likely be relegated to the bench as a super-sub, which is a role he hasn’t necessarily filled in recent years.

Laynce Nix/John Mayberry Jr:

Pro: Mayberry gets more innings in the outfield, which would give the Phillies more opportunities to score runs.

Con: Nix is an outfielder, who has a total of nine innings in the infield — all at first base — in his nine-year career. Still, Nix would be affected by Howard coming back because in Howard’s absence, Mayberry would likely get some innings at first, which would in turn give Nix more time in the outfield. But if Howard is healthy, Mayberry would stay put in the outfield and Nix would get less innings and plate appearances, which isn’t totally bad, but isn’t good either.

The last thing the Phillies want is for Howard to be rushed back. They also don’t want to wait for him to get in the groove at the plate while Wigginton, Nix and Thome sit on the bench. So if he comes back early, it would most likely be a negative for the Phillies, because he would take a few weeks to get into back to where he was at the plate before his injury.

As hard as it might be to wait until mid-May to see Howard at the plate, an earlier return would create a sticky situation for the Phils.

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