Ryan Howard felt it as soon as he attempted to leave the batter’s box.
The sharp pain running through his body wasn’t just the end of the Phillies season dribbling to Cardinals second baseman Nick Punto. It was the pop Howard felt in his left foot that dropped Howard halfway down the first base line, leaving him in some of the worst pain during his 8-year career.
The injury was a tear to his left Achilles and it could potentially leave Howard out of the Phillies line up at least until May or June. He will have surgery this off season once the swelling goes down and there is, “no guarantee he will be ready for Spring Training.”
If the Phillies in fact lose Howard for a very long time, there needs to be some serious thought towards filling the 35+ homers and 120+ RBIs that Howard is good for every season.
There will come a handful of times where the Phils will need production from the four-spot in a late-game situation. Howard has provided that spark a handful of times during his career.
So how do you replace that? Howard’s time off could last only a couple months, making the Phillies decision a less drastic one. But there are also risks of set-backs.
There are two very expensive options eligible for free agency at the end of the season the Phillies could look at. Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are both younger and more dynamic than Howard. But if the Phillies really want to go that route, can they afford it?
They already have to figure out what they’re going to do with starting pitcher Cole Hamels, closer Ryan Madson and short stop Jimmy Rollins. If the expensive option is taken, you could see one or two of those players gone. Hamels is arguably the Phils most valuable player for their future, Madson proved in the NLDS that he can close out big-game situations and it’s going to be very difficult to find a replacement at short stop if Rollins doesn’t accept a hometown discount.
There is a plus to adding a player like Pujols. He adds another dimension to solving the Phillies offensive problems. He can play third base, which would make him extremely useful once Howard is back in the line up.
But with the pros, there come the cons. And those cons are a handful of problems with Pujols and Fielder.
Would Pujols be willing to sign a long-term deal to play third base, a position he hadn’t regularly played since the start of his career in 2001? And even if they talk him into it, would they be able to sign him to a one or two-year contract to play third?
Another question that goes with both Pujols and Fielder are how will they be able to afford one of their contracts? And when Howard is healthy, where does one of them go? Pujols is more versatile but not Fielder. And if trading Howard becomes an option, will he be tradable?
These are things that separate real life from fantasy world. Ruben Amaro is going to have his hands full this off season. Losing his star player and trying to replace him on top of another disappointing end to a season will cause for some sleepless nights for Amaro, who is trying to bring another championship to a team always starving for them.
There are also cheaper options for first base. Carlos Pena, Lyle Overbay and Brad Hawpe are among the cheap options for a temporary replacement at first base. Pena, the most appealing name of the group, would be the best source for power.
Those two bring the Phils to their cheapest option of the three: an internal solution.
Mayberry had been playing a handful of games at first base this past season to rest Howard. With top prospect Brown still trying to mature as a hitter and fielder, Howard’s injury opens up his chances of becoming the Phillies starting left fielder next year with Mayberry possibly playing first base.