Ryan Howard is second on the Philadelphia Phillies' all-time home run list and third on the RBIs list. He has won an MVP award and helped them win the 2008 World Series, and he averaged 50 home runs and 143 RBIs per season from 2006 to 2009.
But it's been seven years since Howard was one of the game's elite power hitters. He last slugged .500 in 2010. He last drove in 100 runs in 2011. He wasn't that valuable those seasons -- he was worth 1.2 WAR each season -- but at least he still hit 30 home runs, knocked in a hundred and provided a threat in the middle of the lineup. He blew out his Achilles in the 2011 postseason. Then his five-year, $125 million contract extension -- signed early in the 2010 season -- kicked in when he was 32 years old.
The contract was instantly criticized from the moment he signed it. "MLB's New Worst Contract" was the headline on SB Nation. "Statistics Suggest Ryan Howard's Deal Is Too Long" was the headline in the New York Times. The contract turned out even worse than predicted. Since 2012, Howard has been worth minus-3.9 WAR; only Jeff Francoeur has been less valuable among position players.
Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels were all traded by Philadelphia. Yet Howard remains, the last relic of that golden era for the Phillies. Unable to trade him, the Phillies have simply kept Howard, in part because they've been bad in recent seasons and it didn't really matter, in part because they didn't have a young first baseman coming up in the system to replace him anyway. But a funny thing has happened in 2016: The Phillies are competitive. Even after losing 5-4 to the Tigers on Monday, they're 25-20, in the thick of things in the NL East. Sure, they're overachieving; they're 14-4 in one-run games and they'll probably fall off at some point, but right now they're over .500.
Howard is killing them, though. He's gone from bad to unplayable, hitting .156/.226/.369. He went 0-for-4 on Monday with two strikeouts. With the game tied 4-4 in the seventh and a runner on second, the Tigers intentionally walked Maikel Franco to pitch to Howard. Justin Wilson struck out Howard on three fastballs, all swinging. He's 4-for-48 in May and hasn't hit a single since April. Fans are saying enough is enough. Local columnists are calling for something to be done. For some reason, manager Pete Mackanin has hit Howard cleanup in 30 of the team's 45 games.
That's on Mackanin, but Howard shouldn't even be on the roster. There's no room for sentiment in the majors, where it's all about winning (unless you're tanking). New general manager Matt Klentak and team president Andy MacPhail might have inherited Howard, but they need to man up and make the obvious move: Give Howard his unconditional release. If you want to give him a chance to save face and retire -- as Ken Griffey Jr. did when he walked away early in 2010 while hitting .184 -- sure, give Howard the opportunity. If Howard doesn't want to give up what's left of his $25 million salary (plus a $10 million buyout for 2017), give him a handshake and his walking papers.
Because the Phillies don't owe him anything -- not after paying him $125 million.