On Thursday afternoon, Ryan Howard signed a minor-league contract with the maligned Atlanta Braves in an attempt to have at least one more season in the major leagues. Howard will report to extended Spring Training next week, before he joins the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate (Gwinnett Braves).
Something about Ryan Howard and the Atlanta Braves placed in the same sentence just does not sound right.
It is a sad state of affairs when the freight train of time comes around to remind us that 2008 was almost a decade ago, and even a sadder state of affairs when one of that team’s brightest stars’ better days are behind him. We are a long way away from Howard’s MVP campaign and dominance as one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. The “get me to the plate, boys,” days are long gone.
Howard was called up to the big leagues in 2004 where he played 19 games as the Jim Thome transition period was in its twilight. In 2005, Howard played 88 games and was awarded National League Rookie of the Year. His first full MLB season was in 2006, where he hit 58 home runs and 149 RBIs earning him the National League MVP and the torch was officially passed.
In 13 seasons with the Phillies, Howard racked up 382 home runs for 1,149 RBIs with a slugging percentage of .515. Howard’s 382 home runs put him second all-time in Phillies’ franchise history behind Mike Schmidt, his 1,149 RBIs ranks third all-time, and slugging percentage is fourth all-time.
Howard, who was once a shining beacon of hope for a downtrodden team, began his steady decline after he ruptured his Achilles tendon in the final out of the 2011 NLDS, where the Phillies lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in a pitcher’s duel at 1-0. A game I still to this day refer to as one-bloody-nil. Howard was never the same again, after he came back. Talk about an expensive loss, perhaps the most expensive loss in Philadelphia sports recent history.
After returning from the injury, Howard appeared to lose power on his back foot and his numbers began to slide. He slowly went from superstar to liability, and the Phillies invoked the $10 million buyout option on the final year of his contract.
In his final game as a Phillie, he was given a hero’s send-off by the crowd and the boos that were thrown his way throughout the 2016 season fell silent. And to those that did boo Howard, the Phillies do not even sniff that World Series without him, so how dare you. Stay off the bandwagon, we are all better off without you.
So how much does Howard have left in the tank? According to him, he’s not done yet, but his numbers say otherwise. Even though his lackluster numbers are not indicative of the end of the road, he will need a serious bounce back season, if for nothing else than his confidence needs it. Is it possible? Sure it is.
For example, take a look at Joe Blanton. After Blanton was traded in 2012, he bounced around from team to team until the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim released him in 2014.
Nevertheless, he found new life in the Dodgers’ bullpen as their setup man last season. Blanton recently signed a contract with the Washington Nationals to help bolster their bullpen.
With that being said, it is entirely possible for Howard to see a resurgence, we have seen it before. However, is it likely? The unfortunate answer to that question is probably not. While mentally he might have a metric ton left in the tank, his body is showing signs that it is time to hang it up.
In order to prolong retirement, it would make the most sense for Howard to go to an American League team and go the way of John Kruk and serve as a designated hitter for whatever time he has left. And that might be part of the Braves’ plan: To use him as trade bait.
I weep for Jimmy Rollins, who just cannot get back to the majors and cannot take a hint. The only thing that would be more unfortunate than seeing Howard in a Braves uniform, would be to see him struggle in the minors for one last shot and never make it. I would like to see him get back to the big leagues, even if it is with the Braves. My love for Howard will trump my hate for the Braves every single time.
I wish you nothing but success going forward, Ryan, and if you do not, then you are not a real fan. But if the sands of time tell you it is time to hang it up, find a telephone pole and chuck your cleats up on the wire.
Ride off into the sunset on your terms, big piece. Thank you for everything, do what you have to do, then come home, retire here, and take your spot on the wall. There is not a Phillies fan alive who will ever debate giving you your plaque.