Wait, am I seriously going to suggest that as this year's MLB trade deadline approaches, some team could actually use Ryan Howard?
At least, enough that they would actually give the Phillies anything of any value in return for him?
That is exactly what I am going to suggest.
Of course, with a player like Howard, and a contract like his, your potential trade partners and the piece that you will get in return is going to be limited. But none of that means that he can't be dealt.
Let's start out by looking, as we have throughout this series, at exactly what an acquiring team would be getting in Howard.
Born in Saint Louis, Ryan Howard was the Phillies 5th round selection in the 2001 MLB Amateur Draft out of Missouri State University. He immediately set about destroying minor league pitching at every level.
Across 4+ seasons rising incrementally through the Phils system, Howard hit 110 homeruns. He was clearly ready for the big leagues in the 2004 season when he destroyed AA & AAA pitching to the tune of a .291/.380/.637 slash line with 46 homers and 131 RBI.
The problem? The Phillies were moving into new Citizens Bank Park, and still had Big Jim Thome as their 1st baseman.
So Howard languished, and even had to begin 2005 back in the minors, where he banged out another 16 homers and 54 RBI while hitting .371 across in just 257 plate appearances.
When Thome's season was ended early due to injury at the end of June in '05, Howard finally got his chance to become the Phillies starter. In just 88 games he slammed 22 homers, drove in 63 runs, hit .288 and was named the National League Rookie of the Year.
The following season, Howard upped his game, hitting for a .313/.425/.659 slash line. He slammed a franchise-record 58 homers and knocked in 149 runs, leading the National League in both categories. For the monster season, Howard was named the NL's 2006 Most Valuable Player.
That kicked off the tremendous run, both individually and for the team. Howard would smash 47, 48, and 45 homers over the next three seasons with RBI totals of 136, 146 and 141 from ages 27-29, becoming the league's preeminent power hitter.
Led by 'The Big Piece' in the middle of their batting order, the Phils won the NL East for the first time in 14 years in 2007, then won the World Series in 2008.
In 2009, the Phils returned to the World Series, and Howard was the NLCS Most Valuable Player.
As he entered his 30's, he slowed up some. In 2010, he missed some time due to injury, but still finished with 31 homers and 108 RBI. In 2011, healthy again, Howard banged 33 homers and drove in 116 runs.
But it was in the 2011 National League Divisional Series where the party ended, both individually and for the team.
The Saint Louis Cardinals defeated the Phils in a dramatic 5th game to win the series 3-2. And on that decisive game's final play, Howard blew out his Achilles tendon.
We all know the story since. He struggled to return from the injury at the same time that he was aging into his mid-30's, and at the same time that the team was beginning to disintegrate due to similar age and injury issues.
Howard returned to full health last year, and regained a semblance of his old power stroke, banging out 23 homers and 95 RBI.
Once again, Howard is having another solid power showing this season at age 35, leading the Phillies with 18 homers and 53 RBI.
The long story short on Ryan Howard is, he still bring pop to the plate. He also strikes out a ton, hits for a low average, and is barely passable defensively as an every day 1st baseman.
But there aren't many power hitters available on the market. Maybe Milwaukee's Adam Lind, or a similarly limited Mike Napoli of Boston. So with all those more recent limitations in mind, who needs Ryan Howard?
Are the Rays still in this thing to win it? I mean, they're just 3.5 out in the AL Wildcard race, right there with the Blue Jays and Orioles in chasing the Twins.
They start James Loney at 1st base currently, and he is hitting .254 with 3 homers and 17 RBI. Their DH is Joey Butler, with his 6 homers and 21 RBI. Those are numbers that Evan Longoria needs hitting behind him in the lineup.
Howard ain't what he once was, but he's a more potent threat than either of them. The Rays cannot take on the Howard contract. But if the Phillies were willing to pay it - ALL of it - then maybe Tampa takes him and surrenders catcher Nick Ciuffo.
Heck, even an injury risk former high-ceiling like pitcher Ryne Stanek might be worth a shot.
The Astros have been riding high most of the year as a sudden contender. But things are tenuous, despite the acquisition of Scott Kazmir to bolster the rotation.
They are going with Chris Carter, hitting .184 with 16 HR and 43 RBI at 1st base. Bringing in Howard to use as a lefty compliment to not only Carter, but also regular DH Evan Gattis? It could make sense.
The Astros have a ton of prospects to deal, even at the deeper levels of their Top 20. This could be an interesting match.
That's it. I mean, I could really go out on a limb, and create scenarios wherein Howard could help out in the NL Central and Wildcard battles by going to either the Cardinals or Pirates. Maybe.
I could put him with the Twins, and make an argument that he upgrades over Joe Mauer, but they would never do such a thing to their civic treasure.
The Mets need bats, but probably would just as soon keep trotting Lucas Duda out there, hoping for a turn around. It's really hard with contenders.
If the Phillies simply want to give Ryan Howard away to some team, any team, and are willing to pay his entire contract, they likely could do so.
But I think it's just as likely that either he stays, both this year and next as the Phillies 1st baseman, or stays for this year, and simply is bought out or maybe even retires in the off-season.