Is the idea of replacing injured St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams with Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard a longshot?
But the idea isn’t as crazy as it seems on the surface with the Redbirds hurting for power and the Phillies reportedly willing to eat 75 percent of the 35-year-old former MVP’s remaining contract in order to get on with their rebuilding process.
In short, Howard has been terrible since the end of the 2011 playoffs for the Phillies when he tore his achilles tendon. He spent three years hitting .220 with half the power he had in his heyday.
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But while it has been a long road back, Howard has been more of his old self this season than at any other time since the injury.
It started when he came to spring training this year in the best shape of his life. Specifically, Howard said he was able to do strength training on his injured leg for the first time since his fateful injury. Having a solid base is key for a power hitter, so it’s not surprise that this would have a positive impact on Howard’s stroke.
Since the start of the 2015 season, Howard has hit a respectable .256 with 21 extra base hits including 10 home runs. He’s knocking a ball over the boards once every 16 at-bats compared to last year when he managed one home every 24.7 at bats.
Making a bargain basement trade for him wouldn’t be half as crazy as it was for the Cardinals to offer a broken down Lance Berkman a free agent contract in 2011. And that seemed to work out OK.
Sure, Howard is going to strike out a lot and he’s never been a high average hitter with a .265 career mark. But he’s an RBI machine. He whiffed 172 times and batted .253 in 2011. Yet he drove in 116 runs and finished 10th in the MVP balloting. When he’s healthy, he’s a presence in the batting order that makes the hitters around him better. Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter are likely to see a lot more hittable pitches if Howard is behind them because of the threat of multi-run homers.
While Mark Reynolds could fill in for a couple of months, he hasn’t been a major league starter in three years and last year he was over-exposed and batted only .196 in 378 at-bats. The Redbirds have no realistic Plan C if Reynolds can’t play. First base is one of the most shallow positions in the organization. The starting first sacker at Class AAA Memphis is Xavier Scruggs who is batting .212 against minor league pitching, although he does have eight homers so far this season.
Scruggs is a .188 hitter in a couple of brief MLB stints over the past two years. He has a total of 16 major league at-bats under his belt, so I’m not ready to turn over the keys to him just yet. Besides, if he does man first base in St. Louis, I don’t see him being slid into Adams’ clean-up spot in the batting order. And the Cardinals don’t really have an heir-apparent for that role. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta is the most likely candidate. But, while he’s a good offensive piece, he’s not really the sort of guy who strikes fear of three-run homers into the heart of pitchers.
The most intriguing part about the potential of Howard in a St. Louis uniform is that he’s always been a better player here than anywhere else.
Howard is a .341 hitter in 156 career plate appearances at Busch Stadium III. He’s hit 11 home runs there and has a .643 slugging percentage.
The only place he hits better is Oriole Park at Camden Yards where Howard has a .364 batting average and a .909 slugging percentage. But those numbers were compiled in only 12 plate appearances.
In short, Howard has always hit the cover off the ball in St. Louis over the course of his 12-year career. He had one good series in Baltimore.
So, there are a lot of good reasons to think Howard could be a productive piece in St. Louis. Look at how well record-breaking slugger Holliday is hitting. He and Howard are the same age -- and the Redbirds are already talking about picking up Holliday’s 2017 option.
Would I be willing to take on Howard’s whole remaining contract to fill the Adams void? Absolutely not. If I were the St. Louis GM I wouldn’t pay half of the contract.
But there is also reason to believe Philadelphia would be likely to virtually give him away. If he could be had for 25 percent of his $25 million a year salary for the year and a half remaining in the pact, he’d be more than worth taking a gamble on -- IF the price tag was a token minor leaguer who didn’t factor into the Cardinals’ long-term plans.
The Cardinals aren’t desperate for help right now. But they’re definite contenders with the best record in baseball. So it would be a mistake not to plan to fill Adams’ spot with a productive MLB player and potentially jeopardize a promising campaign.If not Howard, who could they get? (This isn’t a rhetorical question. I’d like to know who is available with the upside of Howard for the same price or less.)
Plus, as I said yesterday, the Birds might be able to double down on this deal and make a swap that includes their most pressing need: A starting pitcher.
Philadelphia is likely to deal at least one of its veterans and both Cole Hamels (if the team could afford the talent it would take to get him) and cheaper option Aaron Harang could help.