Philadelphia Phillies Officially Decline Ryan Howard’s Option

The Philadelphia Phillies declined to pick up a contract option on the final iconic player from the 2008 world championship team.

The Philadelphia Phillies made official something that was long anticipated when the team announced today that it had declined to pick up the $23 million club option on Ryan Howard for the 2017 season.

Instead, the Phils will pay Howard a $10 million buyout, and he becomes an unrestricted free agent, available to sign with any club that might want his services.

During the Phillies’ final home game at Citizens Bank Park almost exactly one month ago, Howard addressed the crowd in uniform one final time:

“I’m just a laid-back cat from St. Louis out here trying to play ball. That’s it. It’s been fun, man, these last 12 years. You guys all made it possible.

The Phillies, I want to thank you guys for taking a kid in the fifth round out of, well now it’s Missouri State, but Southwest Missouri State University and giving me the opportunity.

This city as a whole, man. I want to thank you because I’ve grown with all of you. My family has grown with all of you.” 

Howard indeed was drafted by the Phillies out of Missouri State University in the fifth round of the 2001 MLB Amateur Draft.

After banging 19 home runs in his first full minor league season at (Low A) Lakewood  in 2002, he would crush another 23 with (High A) Clearwater in 2003.

In the 2004 season, Howard would take his power game to the next level, with 46 home runs and 131 RBI in a season split between AA Reading and AAA Lehigh Valley.

Howard would make his big league debut on September 1 of that season, receiving a 42 plate appearance cup of coffee with the Phillies.

He was clearly ready for a full-time role in Major League Baseball by the start of the 2005 campaign, but Howard was blocked. The Phillies still had popular slugger Jim Thome under contract, and attempts to transition Howard to left field did not work out.

In early May, with Thome suffering from back issues, Howard received what would be his permanent promotion.

From May 3 onward, Howard bashed 22 homers, drove in 63 runs, and hit for a .288/.356/.567 slash line to easily win the National League Rookie of the Year honors.

In his first full season of 2006, Howard slammed 58 homers, produced 149 RBI, scored 104 runs, and hit for a .313/.425/.659 slash line. For that performance, Howard was named as the National League Most Valuable Player. For a second straight season, however, the Phillies just missed an NL Wild Card playoff berth.

That frustration would end with the 2007 season in which Howard’s teammate, Jimmy Rollins, became the second consecutive Phillies player to win the NL MVP Award. The Phillies would surge past the New York Mets that September, winning the first of what would be five consecutive NL East crowns. Howard banged another 47 homers with 136 RBI, finishing fifth in that MVP vote.

In 2008, the Phillies not only repeated as NL East champs, but they stormed all the way to a National League pennant. That club defeated the Milwaukee Brewers in four games, and then the Los Angeles Dodgers in six to reach the World Series for the first time in 15 years, Howard and the Phillies then rolled over the favored Tampa Bay Rays in five games to win just the second world championship in franchise history.

The team would return to the World Series in 2009, losing to the New York Yankees.

Howard continued to be the biggest power threat in the game, blasting 48 homers with 146 RBI in 2008, and then following up with 45 homers and 141 RBI in 2009. Howard turned 30 years old in the 2010 season, and his power numbers would take a slight downturn over the next two years as the Phillies were knocked out in the NLCS and NLDS, respectively.

Making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals, a ruptured Achilles would prove to be a major career derailer for the man who by then had become known as “The Big Piece” in the middle of the Phillies lineup.

Losing most of the 2012 and 2013 seasons while recovering from the injury, he would finally return to play a full campaign in the 2014 season, cranking 23 home runs and producing 95 RBI.

By that point, most of Howard’s teammates from the pennant-winning years had moved on. Over the course of the next couple of years, the rest of that homegrown core consisting of Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz would each be traded away.

By the time he addressed those fans in early October of this year, Howard was the last man standing from that vaunted championship team.

It is believed that Howard, who will turn 37 years of age in just over two weeks, will try to play again next season. During the offseason, his agent will explore opportunities, while Howard makes a final decision with his wife. It is likely that he will sign with someone prior to Spring Training, going to camp with no guarantees.

The Phillies, meanwhile, are expected to hand the full-time first base job to 25-year-old Tommy Joseph. As a rookie this season, Joseph produced 21 homers as the right-handed piece of a strict platoon with Howard.

“The Big Piece” was an integral part, perhaps the most integral part, of that championship core in the last decade. Down the road, a place on the Phillies Wall of Fame surely awaits him.

NOTE: The Phillies also declined a $9.5 million club option on starting pitcher Charlie Morton, who missed most of the season due to injury. They will instead pay him a $1 million buyout. This does not preclude the possibility that he could return at a lesser contract value, likely for no more than one year.

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