Playing Howard and Utley Could Help Phillies’ Rebuild

DENVER, CO - MAY 20:  Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies is congratulated in the dugout by Manager Ryne Sandberg of the Philadelphia Phillies after he hit a solo home run during the second inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on May 20, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

DENVER, CO – MAY 20: Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies is congratulated in the dugout by Manager Ryne Sandberg of the Philadelphia Phillies after he hit a solo home run during the second inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on May 20, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

This is why the Phillies didn’t bench or release Ryan Howard just two weeks into the season.

Remember? That’s what many fans wanted. Howard was hitting .175 (7-for-40) with three doubles, two RBIs, two walks, 15 strikeouts and a .464 OPS though April 19. They wanted Darin Ruf. They wanted Maikel Franco. They wanted Chase Utley.

They wanted anybody other than Howard.

But Howard is hitting .292 (28-for-96) with five doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 18 RBIs and a .961 OPS in 27 games since April 19. Only four players have hit more home runs than Howard since he hit his first homer of the season April 21: Bryce Harper (11), Giancarlo Stanton (10), Ryan Braun (nine), and Todd Frazier (nine). Howard’s OPS is 19th out of 191 qualified hitters in baseball in that span.

If he maintains the pace he has had since April 21 he will finish the season with 35 home runs.

Think a contending team could use somebody like that?

The Phillies had nothing to lose by continuing to play Howard, just like they have nothing to lose continuing to play Utley, despite his struggles. If Howard maintains his pace and if Utley picks up offensively — he has hit well over the past week — the Phillies might be able to trade one or both of them before July 31.

If they don’t, they didn’t lose anything.

Remember, this season is about the future. Benching or releasing the greatest first baseman and second baseman in franchise history based on a couple bad weeks (Howard) or six bad weeks (Utley) is short sighted. There is plenty of time to see Cesar Hernandez and Ruf.

But what about Utley’s $15 million club option that vests if he reaches 500 plate appearances? Relax. Utley is on pace for 555 plate appearances, but even if the Phillies play him at his current pace and he is hitting .150 through July 31, the Phillies could make up the difference the final two months of the season.

So consider the big picture with Howard and Utley. Sticking with them through the trade deadline is the best plan for the future.

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