There is a moment in "Moneyball" (the book, not the movie) where Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, needs to find a cheap solution to replacing both Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon. Both men went the way of the Dodo and signed expensive contracts with richer teams in the offseason.
The A’s can’t afford a first baseman and outfielder that could aptly fill those gaps, so he does the next best thing and finds the best combination of players whose combined statistics equal the production of the departed duo.
And that’s just what the Phillies need to do with Ryan Howard.
Now that the big man is out for the foreseeable future, the Phillies need to move forward and prepare to go the entire season without their slugger. Despite a positive prognosis that would put Howard back in the lineup before the All-Star Break, they should assume the worst case scenario, just to be safe. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.
Replacing Howard sounds like a bigger task than it actually is, because while he does get a lot of negative attention due to his steady decline over the past few seasons (and his five year, $125 million extension which doesn’t start until *next* season), he cannot be dismissed entirely. He is one of the only power threats in the lineup, and despite his proclivity to strike out a lot while simultaneously having little interest in taking a 3-0 pitch or working a base on balls, he is able to hit for power with the best of them.
In a market where power is expensive and getting rarer by the day, Howard's slugging ability (despite its decline) is a hot commodity. That said, the Phillies shouldn't be scrambling for 30-40 homers. Instead, they should be piecing together what he has given them over the last two seasons, namely, they should try to recreate his .270/.353/.524 line in the form of other bodies.
To do so, they must first look in-house -- namely, at John Mayberry, whose breakout 2011 season (should it prove not to be an apparition) opened the eyes of a lot of people. In 104 games, the 27-year-old right-hander hit .273/.341/.513 with 15 homers, getting looks at first base in 18 games. There is some skepticism as to whether or not he can keep up that kind of production, given that he has never been a full time player, but at this point, he’s the best, and most affordable option.
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Along with Mayberry, the Phillies would be mindful to supplement his production with another bat that could spell him at first against right-handers while also providing them with some positional flexibility. Mayberry can also play all three outfield positions and can occasionally struggle against right-handed pitchers.
To do that, they should look at Jason Giambi, the very same player who was recreated from spare parts back in Oakland a decade ago. The left-handed hitter, now 40, would not only be able to play first base (albeit sparingly, thanks to shaky defense), but he also gives the Phillies something that they desperately lacked in 2011 -- left-handed power off the bench. While he isn’t the same hitter who dominated the American League in his prime, he still has a keen eye at the plate and ability to hit for power, as evidenced by his .251/.369/.485 line over the past two seasons.
The one thing that could prevent them from snagging Giambi would be his contract with the Colorado Rockies, which has a mutual option for 2012. Still, his services should prove to be easily attainable.
Put Giambi and Mayberry together, and you get a line of .262/.355/.499, which is slightly less than what Ryan Howard has given the team over the past two seasons.
Is it a perfect solution? No. Elegant? Not in the slightest. But the Phillies are an imperfect team, and with no easy solution (other than hoping for a quick recovery to Ryan Howard) this might just be the next best thing.