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Status Quo Is Right Way To Go With Howard

Back in April I argued heavily about potentially trading Ryan Howard. At the time fans were thinking about the subject, especially as the slugger was slumping enormously. When I wrote this, I thought a pennant — or better — could moot my point.

So, is the point moot?

In a way, yes. The Phillies proved that with Ryan Howard, they could win a World Series. Of course, he’s still arbitration eligible, and he’ll be seeking another high prize for the 2009 season. He won $10 million in Major League Baseball’s most controversial arbitration case yet.

I still don’t believe the Phillies will sign Howard to a mammoth deal, nor do I think the Phillies will trade him (that’s the moot point). To trade away a major player of the franchise’s second world championship would be close to homicide at this point. Only if Howard becomes as slippery as Manny Ramirez would the point then resurface. That said, the best route for the Phils to take is to stick by their guns, go to war with Howard and play the arbitration game. Even if he costs the team $14M or so this season, it’s better than to backload a heavy contract, or to trade him for a return that won’t pay dividends today.

As Cole Hamels proved in the postseason, he’s the more valuable commodity. That’s not a knock to Howard — simply put, Hamels’ big arm meant more to the Phils championship run than Howard’s bat. There’s a stark difference between a bonafide elite-level pitching ace and a bonafide elite-level power hitter. Signing Hamels to a large deal means the cash might not be there for Howard.

The big man becomes a free agent in 2011, meaning the Phils have two years to run Howard out there. He’ll be 29 this season, 31 as a free agent. At that point, it could be extremely wise to let him dance in the American League while the Phils hope to ride new stars alongside Hamels, Chase Utley and an aging Jimmy Rollins.

Is it out of the question to sign Howard to a mammoth deal? No. But now that the Phillies captured their championship, it’s not so dire now to consider Howard’s bat as a necessity. Just as it’s not so dire to consider his bat better served somewhere else. Right now, status quo works.

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