Ryan Howard officially retires as one of Phillies' all-time legends

Ryan Howard officially retires as one of Phillies' all-time legends

Another member of the 2008 World Series team is officially retiring.

But not just any player.

Ryan Howard. The Big Piece. 2006 MVP and Home Run Derby champion, 2005 Rookie of the Year and all-around crusher of baseballs announced his retirement Tuesday in an emotional farewell to Phillies fans in a Players' Tribune article. It's definitely worth the read.

Howard, nearly two years after his last appearance in the majors, relived his fascinating career in the article; from his long trek through the minor leagues en route to becoming one of the most prolific hitters in Phillies history. From the height of his career, the 2008 World Series, to his rapid decline following a ruptured Achilles to end the 2011 season, Howard's career "had some interesting bookends," he writes. 

"But in between? During the heart of it all?

I’ll tell you what — it was a dream come true."

In total, Howard ends his career with a .258 batting average, 382 homers (second on Phillies' all-time list) and 1194 RBI (third). 

Howard burst onto the major league scene as a late season call-up in 2004. It didn't take him long to assert himself as one of the most feared hitters in baseball, swatting 22 home runs in his first full season, while capturing the Rookie of the Year award in 2005.

And then things really took off.

58 homers, 149 RBI in 2006 — one of the greatest seasons in Phillies history — beating out future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols for the MVP. 

That was followed by seasons of 47, 48 and 45 home runs as Howard cemented himself as the top power hitter in baseball. 

But then came the well-documented downfall. Howard was deservedly handed a five-year, $125 million contract in 2010. But then that Achilles injury derailed everything.

The sight of Howard stumbling out of the batters' box and collapsing to the ground to end the Phillies' 2011 NLDS series vs. the Cardinals is something most fans will never forget. 

The turning point in Howard's career and the symbolic end of the Phillies' stranglehold on the National League. 

Whether warranted or not, Howard's contract — with his play and health in decline — was an easy target for fans' hate, as the team quickly faded from the top and slid into obscurity.

But now that Howard is calling it a career, it's time to right that wrong and remember Howard as an all-time Phillies great. A legend.

The power, that long, sweeping swing. At his peak, there was no one like him. And there may not be for a while.

Phillies look to Red Sox for their new athletic trainer Paul Buchheit

Phillies look to Red Sox for their new athletic trainer Paul Buchheit

SAN DIEGO — Nothing official from the Phillies yet, but the team has apparently hired a new head athletic trainer.

According to multiple baseball sources, the Phils have hired Paul Buchheit for the position. Buchheit was most recently an assistant athletic trainer on the staff of the Boston Red Sox.

Buchheit replaces Scott Sheridan, who became the Phillies’ head athletic trainer in October 2006. Sheridan’s contract was not renewed after last season. General manager Matt Klentak declined to talk about specific reasons for the change last month.

Sheridan served on the National League’s athletic training staff for the All-Star Game in July. He was instrumental in helping Chase Utley continue his career after the second baseman developed serious knee issues earlier this decade (see story).

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Phillies officials head to winter meetings looking for an infield bat

Phillies officials head to winter meetings looking for an infield bat

SAN DIEGO — Baseball’s winter meetings are back in this seaside Southern California city for the first time in five years.

The San Diego meetings of 2014 were watershed times for the Phillies as the club traded its iconic shortstop and all-time hits leader, Jimmy Rollins, to the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

The deal brought the Phillies a pair of young pitchers, including Zach Eflin, and signaled the start of a rebuild as club officials conceded that the window of contention that had brought the Phillies five NL East titles and a World Series championship from 2007-2011 had officially closed.

Now, Phillies officials find themselves back in San Diego at another important time in franchise history. The rebuild ended when the team started lavishing big money on Jake Arrieta, Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper and giving up valuable prospects for J.T. Realmuto. Still missing, however, is a winning season. The Phils have not had one of those since 2011, the last year they made the playoffs. Ownership attached huge importance to the coming 2020 season when it pushed to have Gabe Kapler removed as manager after just two seasons in October and general manager Matt Klentak doubled down when he announced proven winner Joe Girardi as the new skipper and punctuated the announcement by saying, “No questions asked, it’s time to win right now.”

The urgency to win now showed last week when the club spent $118 million to sign starting pitcher Zack Wheeler. The hard-throwing right-hander has dealt with injury and inconsistency in his career, but his huge potential, coupled with the team’s acute need for pitching, made this a risk the Phils had to take. The Wheeler signing is expected to be announced as official as soon as Monday at the winter meetings.

So, what else will the team look to accomplish this week in San Diego?

Well, with Wheeler in the fold, the Phils have now prioritized adding an infield bat. That became imperative when the club cut ties with second baseman Cesar Hernandez and third baseman Maikel Franco last week.

The Phils’ ideal scenario would be to acquire a shortstop such as free agent Didi Gregorius. In that case, Jean Segura, whose dwindling range was a concern at shortstop last season, could move to second base and Scott Kingery could play third base. There could also be a scenario where Segura played third and Kingery second. The Phils had probed the market for third basemen and, according to sources, had seriously pursued Mike Moustakas before he signed with Cincinnati. The Phils are still monitoring the markets for free-agent third basemen Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon, but don’t get too excited because they appear to be more interested bystanders than active pursuers. Signing a shortstop like Gregorius, who just so happens to be a favorite of Girardi, would keep third base in play for the eventual arrival of prospect Alec Bohm, who will start the 2020 season in Triple A. Some rival evaluators do not believe that Bohm can survive defensively at third base in the majors — they see him as more of a first baseman — but Phillies officials remain convinced that he can do it. Time will tell.

There is competition for Gregorius. If the Phillies don't sign him, they look at Starlin Castro, Todd Frazier or Brock Holt as short-term fits at third base or other infield spots.

Even with Wheeler on board, the Phillies will continue to look for more pitching, though any further additions will probably come from the third and fourth tiers of the market. The Phils are speeding toward the $208 million luxury tax threshold and Wheeler, by all indications, will be their top wintertime expenditure. By most payroll estimates, the Phils are about $19 million under the tax, and that’s before adding an infielder, bullpen help and some rotation depth behind Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Arrieta and Eflin. Managing partner John Middleton is on record as saying he would not go over the tax for a marginal upgrade but would be open to it if the team was “fighting for a World Series,” and the upgrades were difference-makers like “Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.”

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