Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Mo' Howard

The Phillies are congratulating themselves for not having traded away Ryan Howard when he was apparently blocked behind Jim Thome. Howard won the Rookie of the Year award last year and will probably win the MVP this year. He's a great building block. But guess what -- they're not going to make the playoffs, again.* That'll make 13 straight years since they caught lightning in a bottle in 1993. The only teams that haven't made the playoffs during that time are:
  • Toronto, who beat the Phillies in the 1993 World Series
  • Pittsburgh, who made the playoffs in 1990, 1991 and 1992
  • the orphaned Montreal/Washington franchise
  • the expansion Devil Rays, who joined the AL in 1998
  • Milwaukee, which is the commissioner's pathetic excuse for a team
  • Kansas City, which might be beyond hope
  • Detroit, who will end their drought this year
That's sad company.

Anyway, the Phillies didn't necessarily have to trade Howard or Thome. They could have kept them both. In spring training last year, they tried Howard in leftfield, but they gave up on the project pretty quickly. He must have been pretty bad out there. After all, this is a team that has won with butchers like Greg Luzinski and Lonnie Smith in leftfield. The Phillies' regular leftfielders over the last 30 years are a wretched bunch, defensively:

1976-1980: Greg Luzinski. They didn't call him The Bull because he was graceful.
1981-1983: Gary Matthews. He hustled and moved OK, but he couldn't throw the ball across a taxi cab. They won with him out there, though.
1984: Glenn Wilson. A natural rightfielder with a great arm.
1985: Jeff Stone. Lonnie Smith Jr.
1986: a bunch of guys, none worth remembering.
1987: Chris James. the poor man's Glenn Wilson.
1988: Phil Bradley. He was good. Richie Ashburn said he was the best leftfielder the Phillies had ever had.
1989-1990: John Kruk. Ha!
1991: Wes Chamberlain. Not good.
1992: Mariano Duncan et al. They finished 70-92, so this didn't work.
1993-1994: Milt Thompson/Pete Incaviglia platoon. Ugly, but it did work.
1995-1998: Mostly Gregg Jefferies. Double ha!
1999-2000: Ron Gant. Just like Gary Matthews, only without the winning.
2001-2005: Pat Burrell. The opposite of Gary Matthews. He can't move, but he has a good arm, and they haven't won with him out there.

So I count about a half dozen years of OK or better defense: the years with Matthews, Wilson, Bradley, Thompson and Gant. The rest of the time, it's been brutal. Could Ryan Howard really be that much worse than Luzinski or Kruk or Incaviglia or Jefferies? They would have had to have moved Burrell, and they would have still needed a centerfielder, but seeing as how they ended up giving Bobby Abreu away for essentially nothing, and they're paying part of Thome's salary while he plays (well) for the White Sox, that shouldn't have been a problem. It might not have worked, but what they're doing now hasn't worked for 13 years.

*Yes, I know they're right in the mix in the wild card race. I'm speaking with the bitter disappointment of experience.

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