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Yankees 2017 Potential Free Agent Target: Ryan Howard

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The former star found success against right handed pitching last season

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Ryan Howard just finished his 13th major league season with the Philadelphia Phillies. When the team declined to pick up a club option for 2017, it was the end of Howard’s widely panned five-year $125 million extension that he signed in 2010. At 37 years old, Howard is far from the young star who won Rookie of the Year at 25 and an NL MVP at 26. Still, it’s hard not think back about how good Howard really was during that time. From 2006-2011, Howard hit 262 home runs with a slash line of .274/.369/.559. He also drove in 796 RBI and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting during each of those six seasons. His bad defense brought his value down but he was such an offensive force that he was still worth 19 fWAR from 2006-2011.

Unfortunately for Howard and the Phillies, his 2012-2015 seasons were really bad. During that time, Howard hit only 71 home runs and had a slash line of .232/.300/.421. He had a painful -1.2 fWAR too and continued to play poor defense. And, here is what he did last season:

2016 Statistics: 112 G, 362 PA, .196/.257/.453, 25 HR, 59 RBI, 83 wRC+, -1.0 fWAR

Age on Opening Day 2017: 37

Position: 1B/DH

Why would the Yankees have any interest in a player like this? Because, there was a silver lining for Howard in his last season: the Phillies started using him almost exclusively against right-handed pitching. In fact, Howard had the fifth best wRC+ (142) of first basemen in the second half of last season (minimum 120 PA) because of his success against right-handers. Fifth best! That’s really an incredible achievement for a veteran player who had been struggling so much for so long. In the second half of last season, against right-handers, he hit 13 home runs in 128 PA, good for a .274/.336/.658 slash line. That works out to a 158 wRC+. Any team in the majors would benefit from that type of consistent production.

Despite my optimism for Howard to be a productive platoon player, he really isn’t a great fit for the 2017 Yankees. They already have the left-handed first baseman Greg Bird, who the Yankees will most likely give a long leash to this upcoming season. That would mean Howard would almost exclusively be used as a DH against righties (if Alex Rodriguez were still around, the Yankees could have potentially had the most Yankee-like veteran DH platoon ever.)

It will be interesting to see what type of market develops for Howard. If the Yankees think he can still mash righties, it wouldn’t be insane to offer him a very low cost one-year deal. At worse, they’d lose some money and a roster spot, but at best, they could get 20-25 home runs for cheap. Wherever Howard ends up this upcoming season, here’s to hoping he finishes out his career with some of the success from his early days.