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If A Team Takes Ryan Howard, The Phillies Might Need To Take Bad Contracts Back

 Much of the talk before the Phillies played Sunday's season finale against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park centered around whether or not Sunday's game would be Ryan Howard's last game as a Phillie.   The fans seemed to wonder as much as well, as they gave Howard a standing ovation as Tony Gywnn Jr. pinch ran for Howard late in the game.  The Phillies, from all that people can speculate, will attempt to move on from Howard, but, do not want to simply release him, as a matter of respect.   Trading Howard will not be easy, but to do so, they must take on bad contracts in return.

Friend of the blog Christopher Smith suggested that the Phillies would be taking in return players that play positions already occupied, but the Phillies will have to take back some players, whether they keep those players or not.   What the Phillies get in return should not matter, as long as the Phillies move Howard so they can commit to some of their younger players.   Here is an early look at who could take on Ryan Howard the player and what the Phillies might have to take back in return, even while paying down Howard's salary.

Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians could be a fit for Howard because they fit two criteria: the Indians have used a left-handed DH the last two seasons who might very well retire, and, they have high-priced players that they wish to dump.  

Jason Giambi has spent the last two seasons with the Cleveland Indians.  However, at 43 years old and with his health giving him issue this season, Giambi may finally call it a career.   Besides being a left-handed hitter with a little pop left, Howard would be able to provide a leadership role to the younger players on the roster.   This was one major reason Giambi was there:

Manager Terry Francona helped convince Giambi to sign with Cleveland prior to last season to provide the young team with a veteran leader in the clubhouse and a potent batter off the bench. Providing leadership has been Giambi's primary focus over his two seasons with the Tribe, and he was thrilled to have that chance.

While the switch-hitting Carlos Santana would likely be the team's primary focus at 1B, Howard could give the Indians an option at DH.   To make this work, the Indians would have to unload at least one of their bad contracts: current 1B/DH Nick Swisher.

Swisher is due to earn $15 million in 2015, $15 million in 2016, and has a vesting option for 2017, should he make 550 plate appearance in 2016.   Swisher likely would not have a starting role on the 2015 Phillies.   What he could do, however, is pinch-hit and fill in at either corner outfield position and first base.  Depending who the Phillies move this offseason (Marlon Byrd? Domonic Brown?) the Phillies could use Swisher in a corner outfield position.

The other bad Indians contract is former Phillies outfielder Michael Bourn.  Bourn has underwhelmed since the Indians signed him to a free agent contract prior to 2013.  When the Phillies signed Ben Revere, I suggested they were getting a lower-priced Bourn.   Bourn has produced less than Revere in his two seasons in Cleveland, partially due to injuries.   Bourn would be someone the Phillies could take back, and then attempt to dispose of his contract, eating some of the money.  After all, they would be willing to eat Howard's money as a sunk cost.

Oakland Athletics

This one would be a tough match.  The Oakland Athletics are always looking for a bargain, and if the Phillies picked up almost all of Howard's contract, they may have a match.   After the Athletics traded outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, the team was near desperate for offense.  Designated hitter Adam Dunn came in from the Chicago White Sox to offer such a boost.  Dunn is in the last year of his contract, and the Athletics will have to try to replace his offense somehow.

The Athletics have many players departing as free agents and will likely need to find a way to bring in options to play in 2015.     Most of the dollars come off of the books for the Athletics for 2015, but they might need to free up some money to fill other needs by unloading someone such as left-handed reliever Eric O'Flaherty, due $5.5 million in 2015.  O'Flaherty did not pitch for the Athletics until July of 2014, coming off an injury.  The large spike in pay may make him a candidate to be unloaded.

Scott Kazmir is due $11 million in 2015.  While the Athletics got a lot of value from Kazmir in 2014, the backloaded contract could scare them away from wishing to devote this large chunk of their payroll to Kazmir in 2015.  The Athletics will lose pitchers Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester, and Jason Hammel to free angency after this season, so they may not be able to part with Kazmir.  However, they will get pitchers A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker back from injury and would certainly add other pieces.

Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers will be faced with many looming free agents this offseason.  They include ace pitcher Max Scherzer and designated hitter Victor Martinez.   The Tigers also have some holes to fill, including the bullpen, where they have struggled mightily.  They may decide that an option such as Ryan Howard as designated hitter at a low cost would be better than putting more money into the 35 year-old Victor Martinez.   The Tigers could use that money to re-sign Scherzer, should he be willing to do so.

Closer Joe Nathan is the one the Tigers would be most eager to dump.   Nathan is due to earn $11 million in 2015.  With a 5-4 record and 5.81 ERA, the Tigers may not wish to make another tightrope walk again out of their bullpen.  The Phillies have no need for Nathan, but if it helps the team move on from Howard, they could stuff him somewhere in the bullpen.   Who knows, maybe the Phillies could flip him for someone willing to take a chance on him.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays only have a couple of bad contracts and they may wish to dump some.  Grant Balfour had a rough 2014 (just 12 saves, 4.91 ERA) and is due to make $7 million in 2015.  Balfour would have to serve as a setup man in the Phillies bullpen, regardless of whether or not Jonathan Papelbon is traded.  Balfour has a $0.5 million bonus built into his contract for being  traded.   If the Phillies flipped him to another team, would that be a second bonus?

David De Jesus is set to earn $5 million and will require a $1 million buyout after the season if the Rays do not wish to take him back.  De Jesus batted just .248, but contributed an OPS of .748, an improvement of .114 over Domonic Brown.  The left-handed De Jesus, a Rutgers product, is not really a starter at this point, and could provide depth in the Phillies outfield.

Would the Rays want Ryan Howard?  Howard would be a left-handed power option.  If the Rays only had to pay a little bit of Howard's contract they could be interested.  Howard would have led the Rays in home runs and RBI on the 2014 Rays, besting Evan Longoria in both.  Without a dedicated DH, the Rays generally cycled several players through the DH slot in 2014.  

Howard might not mind playing in the Tampa Bay area, where his mega-mansion is located.    Howard would have a half-hour commute to play his home games in St. Petersburg.

Is there hope?

The Phillies want to do right by Howard and not embarrass him with his release.  These four teams are the best matches that I can dream up.  The reality is that there many not be many teams interested in Howard's services.  But, it will only take one.   Simply unloading Howard would make the Phillies better as they would have options to play their young players.   Chase Utley seems destined for first base, which would free up playing time for Cesar Hernandez, who has yet to get a shot at his natural position in the major leagues.


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