Howard's Rookie Honor Makes Life Interesting

Chicks dig the longball and so do baseball writers. The argument was that Willy Taveras, with plenty of speed to burn, would win the National League Rookie of the Year honors thanks to his contributions over a full season. Instead, the slugging Howard walked away with the honor even though he played less games than Taveras.

The fact that Ryan Howard beat out Willy Taveras for the Rookie of the Year honors wasn't the only surprise. The second part of the surprise was how seemingly easily he beat out the Astros center fielder. Howard collected 19 first place votes of the 32 that are cast in the balloting. He outdistanced Taveras in points by a margin of 109-78. In other words, it wasn't even that close.

Howard's victory can be debated. The old power versus speed controversy can and will be rekindled. Plus, the merits of Taveras' season-long contributions for a team that squeezed into the playoffs versus Howard's partial-season contributions for a team that just missed the playoffs will also be debated. Fans in Houston, who already felt cheated by bad calls in the World Series, likely feel like they've been cheated again by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Oh, well.

Howard's award also adds some not needed fuel to the first base controversy in Philadelphia. Surely, the Phillies couldn't turn around and trade a reigning Rookie of the Year. They also couldn't make him change positions, an experiment that less than a year ago they deemed failed. Surely, the Rookie of the Year won't be relegated to coming off the bench or waiting for Jim Thome to get another back ache. Surely.

So, what now? Does Howard's win signal an increase in the urgency to trade Jim Thome elsewhere? It likely does. Howard and his agent were already starting to get a little demanding before he won the Rookie of the Year title and you have to figure that they won't be completely open to having Howard left dangling. Last year, Howard asked the Phillies to trade him if they weren't going to keep him in the majors. The Phillies refused and he wound up starting the season at AAA, but ultimately played a major role in the Phillies season. If Thome isn't dealt, you have to figure that another request will be coming before too long.

The market doesn't appear to be completely closed for Jim Thome. Minnesota is reportedly the hottest suitor, with Cleveland, Seattle and even the Los Angeles Dodgers seemingly ringing Pat Gillick's phone to have some discussions on Thome. The Yankees are interested and Baltimore could be involved if the asking price isn't too high. The Angels will inquire and the White Sox could become suitors as well. That's a healthy group of teams, some of which could take on a chunk of Thome's salary, and the Phillies may be able to move Thome if that's the way that they ultimately decide to go.

The negotiations could be interesting. The Phillies would likely ask less in players coming their way if their trade partner were to take on a bigger chunk of Thome's salary. Conversely, if the other team can't take on too much salary, then they better step up with some quality players to help fill Jim Thome's shoes.

Would the Phillies possibly deal Howard?

While it's not likely, if they were completely bowled over by an offer, Howard might be dealt. Odds are though that they won't take a chance on having Ryan Howard join the ranks of Ryne Sandberg type trivia questions. No, it appears that Howard is set to stay in Philadelphia for the near future, especially since he won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2010 season. His arbitration prices could get steep, but that too is a matter for the future.

The other option is that Howard and Thome both stay, with Howard being the starting first baseman and Thome getting fill-in time where possible. Sounds stupid because of Thome's price tag, but it's not as dumb as it may sound. If Thome were to be the good soldier and put up big numbers off the bench, he could help to prove that his career isn't over as many have guessed that it may be. At that point, potential trade partners could up their offer to the Phillies and Thome could head elsewhere. Being a utility player might also increase Thome's willingness to waive his no-trade clause.

After all, if the Phillies are stuck with Thome's salary, the only thing that matters is that they win. If Howard would truly be the best choice to start at first, then that's the way that it should play out. You're stuck for the money, so make sure you have the best possible lineup on the field.

Thome as a utility player could work because of Thome's personality, too. He's one of the best guys in the game and while he likely wouldn't be happy, he also wouldn't be likely to go mental and become a distraction to the club. It could work, but obviously, it's not the best solution.

Rest assured that there are a number of people who are scratching their heads this morning. Houston fans feel cheated - again. Pat Gillick has the heat of his first controversy turned up a little and Jim Thome has to be wondering what the future holds for him, especially since he's not in a position battle with the Rookie of the Year.

Needless to say, this winter could involve one huge hot stove for the Phillies.

Comparing Jim Thome and Ryan Howard

The following table compares Jim Thome and Ryan Howard after a similar number of at bats in their early career. It took Thome parts of three seasons to accumulate basically the same number of at bats that Howard accumulated over the past two seasons in Philadelphia.

Thome 10 43 .244 114 369 45 90 18 3 5 44 86 .330
Howard 24 68 .288 107 351 57 101 22 2 0 35 113 .354

Philly Baseball Insider Top Stories