May 31, 2016
There is not one logical reason to keep Ryan Howard on the roster of the Phillies right now, and yet there he is, day after day, reminding fans just how far the mighty have fallen. He can no longer run, field, nor make consistent contact with the baseball. But he is still there.
When the team’s new brain trust came together over the past year, with Andy MacPhail as president and Matt Klentak as GM, the message was clear – out with the old, in with the new. Sentiment would no longer govern decisions. Goodbye, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins. Sayonara, 2008.
Howard has survived the purge for two obvious reasons. He is owed, even now, over $25 million on a contract USA Today last week proclaimed the worst in baseball history. And the other reason is even more telling. No other team wants him, at any price.
Before everyone brands me an ingrate for the brilliant years Howard provided during an extraordinary era of Phillies baseball, please understand that my desire to see him go has nothing to do with his personality. He is a quality individual, always ready with a smile or a consoling word to a teammate. He is no Jayson Werth.
But he is done – as done as any player you will ever witness. How else should fans interpret his .157 batting average, his 52 strikeouts in 140 at-bats, his four errors as a part-time first baseman? On a team overachieving – at least until this past weekend in Chicago – he has turned in, by far, the worst season of his career.
Brutally honest in good times and bad, manager Pete Mackanin can’t hide the way he feels about the man he affectionately calls “Howie.” Mackanin wants Howard gone because it would solve a situation he called “touchy” during an appearance on my WIP radio show last week.
In fact, after Sunday’s loss in Chicago, Mackanin said he planned to use Howard even less than the previous lefty-righty platoon with promising young first baseman Tommy Joseph, noting that “if (Joseph) sits on the bench for a week or 10 days, then what’s the point of bringing him up here?”
And that’s where MacPhail and Klentak come in. Remember them? MacPhail made a loud debut last year when he took over for Dave Montgomery and then disappeared. Most fans couldn’t pick Klentak out of a police lineup, seven months into his tenure.
Instead of dealing with this mess, MacPhail and Klentak have left all of the public responsibilities in the manager’s hands. Some would conclude that this stance is gutless; I’ll just call it wrong. Can’t they at least explain why they choose to keep Howard on the roster?
Here’s what these reclusive new bosses may not know: There will be no outcry from fans if Howard is released; every poll we have taken at WIP radio, just about every call we have aired, is a plea for an end to the suffering – Howard’s and the fans’.
And if they somehow believe that Howard will find his stroke one more time and attract a contender before the trade deadline, they can drop that thought, too. No team competing for a playoff spot wants an ex-slugger six times more likely to strike out than hit a home run.
In his early days as a big leaguer, Joseph has shown promise as a hitter, with a chance to be a part of the team’s optimistic future. He cannot grow into the role by stealing at-bats from an icon sulking on the bench. He is the future. Howard is the past.
Eleven years ago, the Phillies got rid of Jim Thome to give Ryan Howard his chance. And now it’s Howard’s turn to say goodbye.
Something unexpected happened last week in the already-brewing quarterback controversy on the Eagles. Nine days after head coach Doug Pederson declared Sam Bradford the No. 1 guy, both of his coordinators made public appeals for an open competition including promising rookie Carson Wentz.
First, defensive guru Jim Schwartz offered this unsolicited advice to his boss: “Don’t predetermine the outcome of the race.” And then offensive coordinator Frank Reich said on my WIP radio show: “You’ve got to establish a culture of competition … To say there’s not competition, that’s just the furthest thing from the truth.”
So what’s going on here? Is Doug Pederson, who has never been a head coach above the level of high school, dealing with some early friction from his aides? Or is Pederson just trying to protect Bradford, who has already stated that he would prefer no competition for the top job?
The answers to those questions are no and no. Pederson seems to have already created a healthy atmosphere of fan-friendly communication so far; it’s highly unlikely that the coach was unaware of what his underlings would say. And Bradford’s feelings are overrated; his public snit over Wentz has run its course by now.
My theory is that the Eagles’ intentions for Wentz have changed, at least a little, in the nine days between Pederson’s comments and those of his aides. The coach set his timetable before he had actually seen Wentz on the practice field. By many accounts – though not PhillyVoice’s Jimmy Kempski – Wentz has outplayed Bradford so far.
Doesn’t it make more sense that the coordinators said what they did because they really believe the kid has a chance to be better than Bradford far earlier than a season from now? Reich can barely contain himself over the No. 2 pick’s dazzling skill set. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews can’t stop gushing over Wentz’s intelligence.
Two months from training camp, here’s an early prediction about the quarterback race: Wentz will start at least half the games in 2016. Either Bradford will get hurt – doesn’t he always? – or a bad start will require the Eagles to develop the next franchise quarterback on the job, instead of on the sidelines.
The Carson Wentz era is closer than you think.
The best news for Sixers fans last week was the report that Bryan Colangelo is considering trade offers for some of his young players, and for the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. The absolute worst option for the new GM is to stand pat and pick Ben Simmons of LSU.
I know, I know. I heard you after last week’s column about what a disaster Simmons would represent to a franchise that has tried to lose games – very effectively – for the past three seasons. For a player whose college team just flopped spectacularly, Simmons clearly has a vocal following in Philadelphia.
But the long shot that he will become the next LeBron James should not discourage Colangelo from taking a safer path. If he can get something by flipping picks with the Lakers – who, at No. 2 in the draft, are drooling to claim Simmons as the next Kobe Bryant – that move could be the start of something truly exciting.
Imagine a Sixer team with Brandon Ingram added to a front court of Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid (maybe) and Dario Saric (maybe). If Colangelo, a wheeler-dealer by nature, wants to help the backcourt, he should consider dealing Okafor to Boston for the rights to Kris Dunn of Providence or Buddy Hield of Oklahoma.
As for the dreamers who still want the Sixers to take Simmons, here are a couple of more facts to discourage that notion. First of all, LSU went from a 22-11 team without the star forward to 19-14 with him, managing only 38 points in the final game, a 33-point loss to Texas A & M. This is a leader? Seriously?
Last week, USA Today’s beat reporter covering LSU, Glenn Guilbeau, told Comcast Sportsnet that Simmons is not worthy of the top pick in the draft and that the writers covering him in his one college season expected far more than the young player delivered.
It is also worth noting that Simmons has disappeared – vanished – since the draft. He was never known as much of a talker, but he is the most talked about player in basketball right now – by everybody but himself. Again, this is not how a born leader is supposed to act.
Yes, I heard you, Ben Simmons fans. But I haven’t changed my mind at all. If the Sixers draft Simmons, they will regret it for a very long time.
And finally …
• Odubel Herrera does not lack for confidence, but he may be a bit short on brains. After a benching for not hustling, the Phils’ center fielder crushed a three-run homer in Detroit last week, punctuating the feat with a flamboyant bat-flip. If Herrera is acting this way now, imagine what he’ll be like if he’s a star.
• Although Chase Utley is not a Phillie anymore, he still found a way to harass the Mets last weekend in New York. The Dodger second baseman got a two-out, ninth-inning triple to tie a game, then – after Noah Syndergaard threw a ball behind him – smacked two long home runs. You think it’s time yet for Mets fans to get past that takeout slide last year in the playoffs?
• Roger Goodell just keeps making a fool of himself. The NFL commissioner said last week that concussions were his “No. 1 priority,” and then admitted that he had not read a highly critical Congressional report because he was traveling from New York to North Carolina – a plane ride of well under two hours. I give up. How does this man keep his job?
• 76ers bust Andrew Bynum unveiled a new, blond hairstyle last week. Between his constant coif changes, his bowling and his meringue dancing, retirement suits Bynum very well. Clearly, he’s making good use of that $18 million he stole from the Sixers.
• The Eagles announced two public practices at Lincoln Financial Field during training camp – July 31 and Aug. 14. This information is provided for fans making preparations to boo Sam Bradford. Hey, fans need to plan ahead, too, you know.