Rethinking Howard's Future Is A Good Thing

Ryan Howard has made a nice entry into the ranks of major league baseball. It's still very early in his September audition, but Howard has shown glimpses of what the future may hold for the powerful, left-handed young man. In fact, Howard has already made the Phillies regroup enough to consider whether or not he might possibly be able to play a position other than first base.

Saturday brought the moment that Phillies fans had waited for. Ryan Howard stepped to the plate and launched one. The shot easily cleared the 396 foot sign on the left field fence at Shea Stadium, landing like a grenade in the Phillies bullpen. Opposite field, 400 feet, no problem. In fact, if you've seen Howard play up close and personal, you kind of have to wonder if he even got all of that one because he is well known for his opposite field power.

The Phillies tried their hardest to deal Howard at the trading deadline. There's an old adage that says sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make. That may be the case with Howard. The Phillies had remained steadfast all season that Howard basically didn't have a future with the organization, because Jim Thome has a lock on first base. When the subject of Howard moving to the outfield came up, the Phillies insisted that simply wouldn't happen. Now though, they have admitted that he may force them to rethink that idea. In fact, Ed Wade went so far as to say that when his staff gathers to talk about things right after the season, Ryan Howard's future with the organization will be right at the top of the list of topics.

Moving Howard is no easy proposition. There are several questions that will need to be addressed. First, can Howard handle a move? While Howard is a strong first baseman defensively, he lacks speed and isn't the most athletic player. Having Ryan Howard in the outfield would be like having Greg Luzinski or John Kruk in the outfield. Both played there and neither were considered strong defensive players, but both could hold their own in left field. Kruk was moved to first base for most of his career, while Luzinski only made the move very late in his playing career. Howard is a big guy, but works hard at his game and it wouldn't be a complete surprise if he could handle an outfield position. The Phillies would likely want to make late inning defensive changes in close games, but that's not the worst thing in the world.

Another consideration is that the Phillies have their corner outfielders – Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu – signed long-term and don't want to even think about trading either of them. Burrell lacks the ability to play center field and although he played third base in college, he wouldn't be much of an option there in the majors. Abreu, meanwhile, likely could handle center field. He has played a few games there for the Phillies and while he has been vocal about not wanting to bat leadoff, he has never said that he wouldn't be happy moving to center. Again, defense would be a bit of an issue perhaps, but then again, Abreu's defense has gotten better. The Phillies will be shopping for a center field replacement this winter, so moving Abreu to center and putting Howard into right field might be an option. Late in games, a defensive replacement could come in to center and allow Abreu to move back to right. Of course, that's if Abreu and Howard do come up short defensively in their new positions.

Another option is one that the Phillies are unlikely to explore. Keep Howard on the club as a utility player. He could get occasional starts in left and/or right field and also make an occasional start at first base. The Phillies are very reluctant to do that with young players, opting instead to have them play on an everyday basis in the minors. Remember the arguments about whether Chase Utley should be with the club or stay at Scranton this season. Keep in mind that another position the Phillies will address is a left-handed bat to bring off the bench. Since he did only have about a month at AAA, another season at Scranton to learn the outfield wouldn't be the worst situation either.

The fact that the Phillies have said publicly that they will at least consider alternatives to dealing Ryan Howard is a good sign. This is an exciting player and hitters with his power don't come along very often. There is nobody in the Phillies organization that shows power anywhere near what Howard offers. There are few hitters in all of minor league baseball that seem to have Howard's potential. Sometimes, teams have to think outside the box, so to speak, when they look at how best to put together their club. The Phillies need to do that with Howard and consider options on how best to make him a part of their organization at least in the near future and certainly on a long-term basis. Giving him an outfielder's glove wouldn't be a bad first move in making Howard a part of the Phillies.

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