The Philadelphia Phillies may not want to admit it, but it's time.
The Phils should cut ties with one of the most-feared sluggers in franchise history — Ryan Howard.
And they should do it now.
Many, if not most, of the thousands of Phillies' fans here in York County would likely applaud the decision.
Still, there are likely several reasons the Phils don't want to pull the trigger on the move.
Actually, there are at least 27 million reasons.
That's the amount of money that the Phils still owe the struggling, 36-year-old first baseman — approximately $17 million for the rest of this season, plus a $10 million buyout for next season.
That's a load of cash to pay someone to simply go away.
But the Phillies, entering Wednesday's game, had the second-worst run production in the majors, and Howard is a big reason the team struggles mightily to produce offense. He's an empty void in the middle of a lineup that already lacks punch.
Howard, going into Wednesday's game, is hitting just .157, more than 100 points below his career average. He still has a little pop, as evidenced by his eight homers this season, but he's still on pace to produce just 25 homers and 60 RBIs this season, well below his best years from 2006 through 2009, when he averaged a staggering 50 homers and 143 RBIs per season.
It's sad to watch just how far he has fallen.
Howard just is not the same player. He consistently flails wildly at pitches in the dirt and the only time he produces any power is when a pitcher accidentally happens to hit his bat. Not surprisingly, manager Pete Mackinin has decided to limit Howard's playing time in favor of rookie Tommy Joseph.
What's worse, this is not a one-year blip. In three of the last four years, Howard has hit .229 or lower, and he hasn't hit more than 23 homers in any of those seasons.
The five-year, $125 million deal he started in 2012 has been an anchor around the team's neck, helping to sink the franchise into the abyss of the National League East Division.
Besides the the cash outlay, there are probably a couple of other reasons the Phils' management doesn't want to release Howard.
First, the team would have to admit it made a colossal mistake by signing him to the deal in the first place. No one likes to admit they were wrong. It's also not easy to cut a huge check to someone who isn't even on your roster anymore.
Secondly, the team probably does not want to embarrass Howard by handing him his walking papers.
After all, the man once known as “The Big Piece” is a huge reason the team won five straight NL East titles and a World Series championship. And for the first five or six years of his career, he was one of the best bargains in baseball. It would be an extremely difficult decision for the Phils to simply cast him aside. He deserves respect for his achievements.
As it is, however, Howard is being embarrassed every day at the plate.
The best option for both parties would be for the Phils to work out a deal with Howard where he announces his retirement, but the team agrees to pay him the $17 million he is owed.
It would help Howard save face and it would help the rebuilding Phillies move on.
There's little doubt that Joseph will give the Phils more production and better defense than Howard. Going into Wednesday, the 24-year-old Joseph was hitting .278 with three homers and five RBIs in just 36 at-bats. And he's costing the Phils just more than $500,000 per season.
Will the Phillies be willing to release Howard?
It's doubtful, at least not in the immediate future.
They'll likely continue to limp along, limiting Howard's playing time and giving Joseph more and more of his at-bats.
Eventually, however, the time comes when you simply have to rip the band-aid off the wound.
For the Phils, that time is now.
— Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.