On Saturday, the Philadelphia Phillies placed Ryan Howard on the 15 day disabled list with left knee inflammation and Darin Ruf was called up to take his place on the roster. The injury has been diagnosed as a torn meniscus, and Howard will miss up to two months. Could this latest injury be the beginning of Howard’s career declining right before our eyes?
Ryan Howard was drafted in the fifth round of the 2001 first-year player draft out of Southwest Missouri State. Many people did not know what the Phillies were getting in the left-handed first baseman, but from that point on Howard’s career would never be the same. In 2001, Howard began his career in Batavia, playing Single A ball. He played in 48 games with six home runs and 35 RBIs, not bad for a fifth-round pick. Then in 2002, Howard played for the Lakewood BlueClaws and dominated with 19 home runs and 87 RBIs in 135 games. The progression of Howard started to maturate very quickly.
Skip to 2004. Howard’s career started to come full circle as the Phillies were close to making the playoffs as many fans wanted then GM Ed Wade to trade Howard, but Wade wouldn’t do it. This would pay off later, as the Phillies would win a championship.
Howard would then make his major league debut on September 1st 2004. He was a September call up and made most of his opportunities in 19 games. Howard would hit two home runs and drive in five, not great numbers but it was a start.
In 2005, Howard would play in 61 games for Scranton Wilkes-Barre, which was the Phillies Triple-A team at the time and would dominate. Ed Wade finally made the choice that it was time for Howard to be with the Phillies full time and the pay off has been great for the fans and the franchise.
2006 was Howard’s coming out party. His 58 home runs and 149 RBIs earned him NL MVP honors. But Howard hasn’t hit 50 home runs again and his numbers continue to decrease.
In 2007, he had 47 home runs, in 2008, when the Phillies won the World Series, he had 48 home runs and played in all 162 games. Next, in 2009 when the Phillies went back to the World Series, Howard would 45 home runs Not bad numbers by any means, but in 2010; he would only hit 31 home runs. 2011 is where you can claim that Ryan “The Big Piece” Howard lost his killer home run swing. In 2011, when the Phillies were in the NLCS versus the San Francisco Giants, Howard was the final out and tore his achilles running up the first base line.
From that point on, Howard’s career changed for the worse because don’t forget he also had signed a five year, $125 million contract extension not too long ago in 2010. Many Phillies fans are killing Ruben Amaro Jr. for signing Howard to that long extension but at that point could you blame him? Howard was looking like one of the most promising young power hitters of this generation. He looked like one day he could hit 500 home runs, but is now stuck on 311. In the last two seasons including this season, Howard only has 25 home runs. These are not the kind of numbers we are used to seeing from him.
The questions now start to arise. Is Ryan Howard’s career over as a Phillie? Can he return to be dominant force in the Phillies lineup? Finally, is he even a good first baseman anymore? The first and last questions are the two hot button topics when talking about Howard. To answer the first question, I think that Howard’s career is not over here in Philadelphia. You don’t give up on a player that has helped elevate your franchise to levels you probably would not have seen without him. But I do think that if he does not start producing then he would be used as trade bait.
Lastly, I think Howard is a good first baseman. Over the years, his defense has gotten better. He still has trouble making the throw from first to second cleanly but no baseball player is perfect. If he ever went to an American League team, he could still be a first baseman but would a team possibly take a chance on him being a designated hitter? Certainly, but that is a question hopefully the Phillies don’t have to answer yet. As of right now, Ryan Howard’s career is on the decline and if he does not get better, this star first baseman could burn out in a matter of years.