(Photo Courtesy of Sports Illustrated)
Philadelphia Phillies 1B Ryan Howard can’t seem to shake the injury bug that has plagued him over the past two years. After missing a majority of the 2012 season because of a torn left Achilles tendon that he suffered in the 2011 NLDS against St. Louis, the slugger will miss another 6-8 weeks due to a torn meniscus in his left knee that will require surgery.
Howard, batting .266 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs this season, has been hindered over the past couple weeks after receiving a cortisone shot in the knee at the end of April. Manager Charlie Manuel has played him sparingly, one day on and one day off so Howard can rest his ailing leg. That thought process, while a good idea, did not work out in Howard’s favor as the pain continued to worsen over the past week. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday prior to the game against Atlanta and an MRI showed a tear in the ligament.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has recently been quoted calling Howard “an expensive platoon player” but the first baseman was obviously playing through the pain until it was too much to bear. Howard signed a five-year contract extension in 2010 worth $125 million. In hindsight, the deal has looked bad and continues to haunt an aging team’s payroll.
Let’s not play Monday morning quarterback and look back on the decisions made by the Phillies front office, because frankly, we could be here all day. At the time of the extension, Howard was an up and coming star and was mentioned with legends of the game. He was the fastest player to reach 200 career home runs. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2005.
From 2006-2009, Howard became the 4th player in MLB history to hit 40 home runs and drive in 130+ RBIs in four straight seasons, joining Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Jr., and Sammy Sosa. In those four seasons, the “Big Piece” averaged 49.5 home runs and in 2006, his MVP season, he set career highs in home runs (58) and RBIs (149).
Since that extension however, his production has diminished considerably. In 2011, the season of the Achilles injury, Howard hit 33 home runs and knocked in 116 runs in 152 games played. He played in no less than 143 games a season when he was the Phillies full-time first baseman from 2006-2011. Howard has only played in 151 games over the past two seasons, hitting 25 homers with 99 RBIs.
He is owed $25 million per season from 2014-16 with a club option of $23 million in 2017. If management chooses not to pick up that option, there is a buyout clause in the contract of $10 million.
In the meantime, Darin Ruf has been promoted from Triple-A Lehigh Valley and will most likely see a majority of the playing time at first base.
Howard has been mentioned in trade speculations over the past couple of weeks but his contract is a big reason most teams don’t even entertain the idea. Amaro Jr. called him an expensive platoon player. The only problem with that is you have to be on the field to be a “player” and Howard can’t stay healthy enough for that consideration.