Missing Piece- The Phillies Future at First Base


It’s not hard to tell- Ryan Howard is less and less a part of the Phillies. The first baseman is second all-time in homers and RBIs for the organization, and has another year on his contract, but he’s playing less and less games. His former teammates are increasingly gone. He and Carlos Ruiz are the last two players from the 2008 championship team here.

The big difference with Ruiz and Howard is not their contracts, both of which are too costly and have one more year left. It’s what’s coming up in the system. The Phillies picked up one of the top minor league catchers in baseball, Jorge Alfaro, in the Hamels deal. Andrew Knapp has hit at a .400 clip in Reading for a couple months now. Gabriel Lino has had a decent year between AA and AAA. Willians Astudillo has had a really good season for Clearwater. Deivi Grullon excites a lot of people with his defense at Lakewood. They just signed Rafael Marchan on the international market. The Phillies have lots of catching prospects at various levels. Rhys Hoskins has had a great season at Lakewood and Clearwater playing first base, while Kyle Martin has played well since the draft in Lakewood. Neither is overly close. Neither is even a lock to be the next guy.

Meanwhile, Darin Ruf is getting at-bats at first base against left-handed pitching. Ruf was once viewed as an option to replace Howard, by some, but has not really earned that opportunity on the field at this point. This could be Ruf’s last shot to change minds, but the reality is that many of the critiques of his game when people were excited about him several years ago are still holding true. He’s probably not a realistic option to be the long-term first baseman at this point.

All of this leaves the Phillies in an interesting spot. There is no doubt that moving Ryan Howard would be desirable to the front office and some portion of the fan base, but then what? Are the Phillies better off letting Howard play out his contract in 2016 and hoping one of their younger options plays their way into the discussion? Could they seek out a better alternative on the free agent market? Should they let Ruf play? Could they cut or trade Howard if they wanted to? The Phillies have a lot of questions at first base moving forward, and very little to no answers.

Given where the Phillies are, in a rebuild, and where they expect to be in 2016, I don’t see much reason to cut Howard. Letting him play in 2016, perhaps in some form of platoon (perhaps with Ruf), and seeing what happens with Hoskins and Martin will allow them to make a more informed decision for the future. On the other hand, if they were willing to eat most of the $35 million and could then get a worthwhile prospect, which I consider to be highly unlikely, I would be fine with trading him. Ultimately though, I think we’re going to see Ryan Howard finish out his $125 million extension as the Phillies part-time first baseman.


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