Is Ryan Howard A Worthwhile Acquisition for the Rays?


The Winter Meetings have now come and gone without the Tampa Bay Rays acquiring another bat to improve their offense. Adding an impact hitter to the lineup has to be among Matt Silverman’s wish list for the rest of the offseason. Silverman has previously said the Rays would most likely add a bat through a trade as opposed to signing a free agent. One name that continues to be linked to the Rays is Ryan Howard.

Ryan Howard was once one of the most feared left handed power hitters in the game. In 2006, he won the NL MVP award by posting a line of .313/.425/.659, drilling 58 homers and driving in 149 runs. During a three-year span from 2007 to 2009, Howard hit a combined 140 homers, hitting at least 45 each year. His slugging percentage was never lower than .543 and he drove in at least 136 runs in each of those seasons. Howard was one of the best first baseman in the game and looked primed to be described that way for a long time.

The unfortunate reality for Ryan Howard is that he has not approached that level of play since. In 2010 and 2011, his power took a slight dip, but he still hit at least 31 home runs and drove in at least 108 in those two seasons. Injuries then marred his 2012 and 2013 seasons, and he wasn’t nearly as potent a hitter even when healthy. In 2014, he finally played a complete season again and posted a line of .223/.310/.397 and hit 23 home runs with 95 RBIs.

Adding Ryan Howard would add a powerful left-handed bat to the Rays lineup. At 35 years old, Howard certainly is not the player he once was, but getting a lefty power hitter of his caliber would be a nice complement to the righty-hitting Evan Longoria and Wil Myers.

The Rays have James Loney at first base, but Howard would slot in nicely as the Rays’ everyday DH and he has always been a horrible defender at first base anyway. Not having to play the field would also mitigate the injury risk that comes with Howard and just maybe help him at the plate. However, there are definitely reasons why Howard wouldn’t be a good fit for the Rays.

Even though Howard’s 23 homers and 95 RBI from last season look nice, his OPS+ was actually just 93, seven percent below league-average. With that in mind, he was a below-average hitter striking out like crazy as he led the league with 190 K’s. The good news is that Howard may still have the upside to be an above-average hitter and actually hit lefties better than he had in years in 2014. However, Howard’s contract is an enormous detriment to his value as the Rays think about acquiring him.

Back in April of 2010, he Philadelphia Phillies signed Howard to a contract extension for five and $125 million that was set to begin in 2012. That contract has since become one of the worst in all of baseball. The Phillies still owe Howard $60 million over the course of the 2015-2017 seasons. For the Rays to even think about acquiring him, the Phillies would have to pay nearly all of that money.

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While adding Howard to the Rays lineup sounds very attractive, it’s difficult to see a deal getting done here. The Phillies have appeared to be willing to eat most of Howard’s contract to deal him but the question is just how much.

The Rays would need him to be in their price range (which isn’t very high) in order to consider acquiring Howard, let alone give something of value up for him. The Phillies would have to pay something like $22 million of Howard’s $25 million salaries for the next two years and the entire $10 million buyout of his 2017 option. Have the Phillies reached the point where they would be willing to do that to deal Howard?

If the Phillies were somehow willing to eat almost all of Ryan Howard’s contract to trade him, then the Rays might consider making a move. While an acquisition of Howard could be worthwhile for the Rays, there are a lot of things up in the air and the Phillies may not be willing to address them all to facilitate a deal.