With the July 31 trade deadline coming up fast, the Philadelphia Phillies are faced with a load of questions. Excitement surrounding the trade deadline is nothing new to Philadelphia, however, this year is a bit different.
This season, the Phillies are looking to unload, but by doing so, they may have to eat a large amount of salary now in order to have success in the future. The contracts signed for Ryan Howard, Jonathan Papelbon, Jimmy Rollins and Cliff Lee have dug the front office into a hole they may need to take drastic measures to get out of.
The team does not seem to have much of a chance at making the playoffs this season, and many of the large contracts they have given out in the past five years are going to make moving any of their older veterans difficult. Case in point is Howard.
Howard is nowhere near the player he once was. He is hitting only .220 this season, but the power numbers still are there. He is 12th in the National League in home runs with 15 and seventh in the NL in RBI with 56. I am sure there are some American League teams that would love to add his power to their lineup, but not without the Phillies eating most of his remaining salary. Howard still is owed $68.3 million of his $125 million contract. Also, he has a partial no-trade clause in his contract that would prevent him from being traded to some of the teams that may be willing to make a deal for him.
The Phillies need to look at their future, and a big part of the future will be prospect Maikel Franco, who has been on fire the past few weeks in triple-A. Franco had been playing third base, but he recently switched to first base, which sets him up perfectly to be Howard’s successor if a deal could get done. Part of the reason the Phillies may decide to eat Howard’s salary is they were in a comparable position when Howard was in the minors. The Phillies may have missed a couple of big seasons from Howard by holding him back since Jim Thome was playing first for the Phils at the time. The team may not want to make the same mistake twice.
Howard has been a huge part of the Phillies’ success, but the team cannot afford to keep the entire core of the 2008 team around much longer. The team has been in a steady decline since making back-to-back World Series in 2008 and 2009. In order to stop the decline, the Phillies need to get younger as soon as possible. Eating a portion of Howard’s contract in order to get a deal done will not automatically fix the problem, but it would be a step in the right direction.
Truthfully, Franco may not be major-league ready yet. He had a horrible start to this season and, even with his strong recent weeks, he still is batting only .230 with six home runs and 32 RBIs, but the culture change may be what the Phillies need at this point. The team seems stagnant, and sending a veteran like Howard packing and replacing him with a fresh face may have a positive impact on the organization.
Nobody wants to see Howard go, but there comes a time the financial hit may be worth it. His limited no-trade clause will give him somewhat of a say in where he goes, so he may be receptive of a move. He may even be able to chase another championship in a different city.
Overall, I would much rather be writing about the Phillies competing for a playoff spot, but, unfortunately, this season has not gone the way Philadelphians had hoped. In May, the city was holding on to hopes of one last run from the team the entire city grew to love. It just was not meant to be. The next few weeks will be a preview of the direction the team is going. It is time to stop living in the past and really start caring about the future.