Note to Phillies fans: You should be kissing Ryan Howard’s ring

Ryan Howard or John Mayberry Jr. at first base for the long haul. Who do you choose? (AP/Ross D. Franklin)

Dear Phillies fans,

Us non-Phillies fans know it was a tough season filled with promise, expectation and disappointment. Now, you want to dismantle a team that you thought was bound to be the next dynasty?

There are few things on my mind, and instead of letting you wallow in your self-pity, I want to help you break through this and help you see the light. Sometimes being close to the situation blinds you from other glaring problems.

First thing’s first, please stop pulling an Andy Reid at the 4:34 mark. We know you have all the talent and you should have won. There’s no doubt that on paper, you’re the champs. However, that’s not the reality. Just tip your cap to a team that outplayed you. You’re veterans of the postseason. Sometimes, a team is flat-out better. You’re perceived suckiness is actually a combination of a superior team — at that moment — and choking. Nobody will doubt your loyalty or passion for the team if you look at the situation objectively. If you want to be considered knowledgeable, then analyze the game instead of “let’s gut this team now!” This leads me to my second point.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. We understand that your team didn’t hit — unless it was in the clutch (more on that later) — but everyone is missing the poor pitching performances. Tell me what Cliff Lee did that was so great? What about “ace” number four? Those are two of your three losses right there. Names, big contracts and prior history don’t equal wins (see Derek Jeter). What does equal wins is a total team effort in the most individual sport.

With all that out of the way, there’s one person on this team who is getting berated. Some of it is deserved, but the vitriol afterward has been disgraceful. Ryan Howard is your MVP, and you better kiss the ’08 ring and thank him as he cashes that $100 million check that you put in his pocket. Oh, you want a reason to love him? I thought you’d never ask!

For those of you “fans” who said Howard needs to go, let’s break down how and why that’s not even remotely possible.

First, you heard that pop after the final swing of 2011 season, right? I feel like that’s self-explanatory, but then again, you’re the ones who want a guy who hit 33 home runs (sixth in the NL) and drove in 116 RBIs (third in the NL) gone. I’ll acknowledge that his OBP (.346) was down, but it wasn’t as bad as the year he finished second in MVP voting (.339). Howard is still an MVP-caliber player offensively. Defensively — where he was once horrendous — he has become solid, dare I say stellar? On the flip side, he is 31-years old and has to battle a significant injury. However, there are still plenty of teams that would trade for him, especially in the American League; but they hold so much leverage that you’ll never get what you want in return, unless you’re trading with Ed Wade.

If you look to free agency, who is out there? Realistically, do you think you have a shot of clearing Howard’s money and getting Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder? That’s rhetorical. Do you think Nick Johnson is the answer? The only viable option is Derrek Lee. How great does that right-handed bat sound in your line-up instead of Howard’s bat? Take a look at the free-agent first basemen. If you’d rather have one of them over Howard and want to e-mail me why, I’ll listen. Seriously. Take out those you have no shot at and look at who is left. Besides Lee, there’s not one person who you could count on to even make it until June in Howard’s absence, let alone be a replacement.

Now, if you want to look into the roster you already have — including the minors — you have better argument, but not a good one.

The consensus is the Phillies don’t have a pure first-base prospect in their top 30. One guy who might be able to dispel that sentence is Matt Rizzotti, but he is going to be 26-years old by the start of next season and only has 45 at-bats in triple-A after tearing up double-A two years in a row. If he’s that good, why isn’t he getting the at-bats at the next level?

Every other player with potential and in a position to transfer to first base (catcher, third base, outfield) is young, raw and needs to perform above double-A. Plus, learn a new position. If the window is next year or closed, clearly that won’t work.

The only other guy on the roster who can play first is John Mayberry Jr. Now, in this scenario, Howard is traded for great prospects, Raul Ibanez is gone and Jimmy Rollins stays. Domonic Brown is in left field and the infield is the same with the exception of Mayberry Jr. now manning first. Does that sound like a world champion? Never mind how it sounds, look at the numbers:

Mayberry Jr. is four years younger than Howard with 918 less games under his belt. That’s five and two-thirds seasons less. Sure, Mayberry Jr.’s numbers are comparable to Howard’s rookie campaign:

Mayberry Jr. had 15 HR, 49 RBIs, .273 AVG, .341 OBP. Howard hit 22 HR, 63 RBIs, .288 AVG, .356 OBP. Howard also had 45 more at-bats.

Remember that line-up also started David Bell.

Hey Philadelphia, remember the good ol' days? (Tim Shaffer/Reuters)

Again, if you think Mayberry Jr. is as good as Howard, then maybe this is the right move. Who knows, maybe the Phillies can strike gold twice. Remember what Howard did after his rookie year? Maybe the words MVP along with 58 HR, 149 RBIs and .313 AVG will ring a bell. Yeah, I can see how Mayberry Jr. is poised for those numbers.

Let me play devil’s advocate for a second. Let’s say they make a monumental move and Mayberry Jr. has a fantastic season. Can he hack it in the playoffs?

I know you must be saying, “Viso, Howard did zilch last year. That’s the reason we made this move.”

To which I say, “Was it really that bad?”

Howard hit a miniscule .143. Okay, but is he paid to hit with nobody on or is he paid to drive in runs? Look at the numbers. He led the team with six RBIs. Not good enough? How about his .400 average with RISP? Do you know who didn’t hit when give the opportunity? John Mayberry Jr., that’s who. Zero hits in the four attempts his was given. Four attempts that he is supposed to succeed in because he is a situational player! This is why his numbers are so skewed during the regular season. Howard’s rookie campaign was thrust on him as Jim Thome’s replacement. Mayberry Jr. was inserted because Ibanez can’t hit lefties. That’s a major difference.

Mayberry Jr. is good enough to bridge the gap until Howard’s return. By all accounts, this is a six-month injury. Soccer players can return from this injury in that time span. The grind on the Achilles is much more severe for them than a first baseman. However, Howard is a lefty and he tore his left Achilles. This means planting and driving off that back foot is going to be a problem, initially. Expect his power numbers to dip. Although, this could be a blessing for his contact numbers. When Howard first came up, there was a lot of talk about him driving the ball the other way and how he needed to focus on pulling the ball. That season, he hit .313 and 58 home runs — both career highs. Much like a pitcher losing miles on his fastball and transitioning to a finesse guy, I expect Howard’s commitment to becoming a better contact hitter to fix some of the holes in his game.

Howard’s going to play somewhere around 110 games next season. Pace-wise, he won’t hit his normal 35 HR or 110 RBIs, but I would expect his strikeout numbers to drop significantly while his batting average scrapes .280 or better.

Again, I understand the frustration (see 2003 Yankees) of having a team that has the talent, intangibles and experience to be champions but falls flat on their faces. However, this isn’t the time to wipe the slate clean. Now is the time to let out the tears, refocus and support an organization that is committed to giving you the championship you deserve.  I forgive your stupidity and I’ll reach out to Howard myself:

So, Mr. Ryan Howard, if you’re sitting at home, waiting for the swelling to go down and reading this, please realize that your fans and city are hurt. They’ll see the error of their ways soon, and when you hit that first home run in June of 2012, nod your head and embrace the warmth, and phileo, adelphos.

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