Do you think Ryan Howard will be back next year?
-- Matt H., Raleigh, N.C.
Now that the Phillies have a new president and general manager, I'm not sure which way they will go with Howard, but I think everybody agrees it would be best to part ways. I'm not sure Howard is happy in Philadelphia. His good friends are gone. He is playing on a losing team and he knows he is not part of its plans once it starts winning again.
He also knows the team would have cut him loose already if it had not committed $35 million to him next season ($25 million in salary, plus a $10 million buyout on a 2017 club option). The Phillies have been trying to trade Howard for a long time but have found no takers, despite being willing to eat most of his contract.
Perhaps president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak will finally say the deal is a sunk cost, release him and move on. A fresh start might be best for everybody. Of course, the move would be easier if the Phillies had a definite replacement at first base. If the Phillies release Howard, it would be some combination of Darin Ruf and perhaps another left-handed bat in a platoon situation.
With so many young players and prospects, are the Phillies subject to what just happened to them? That is, many players reaching their prime at the same time and thus commanding high-dollar, long-term contracts? Is there a way to come to a balance apparently like the Cardinals have done?
-- Steve B., Carlisle, Pa.
That would be a nice problem to have in a few years, wouldn't it? Let's say Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Odubel Herrera, J.P. Crawford, Jake Thompson, Nick Williams, etc., all live up to their potential and become very good players in the near future. How should the Phillies handle that? I think they actually dealt with things well when they bought out the first few years of free agency for players like Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. They got those players in their prime for a relative discount. But things went south when they continued to re-sign those players, despite evidence that their production had started to decline.
Partner John Middleton said last month: "One of the criticisms the fans have leveled on the Phillies -- and I think it's justifiable -- is that we didn't recognize early enough and act upon that recognition that the window had closed and we needed to move on. That we were trying to extend guys that were older and trying to create a bridge and we needed to realize that the bridge didn't exist and we needed to move on."
In short, the front office should not be sentimental about its star players, no matter how well they performed in the past. Because in the end, fans only want a winner. If I had told fans following the 2011 season that the Phillies would blow up the roster -- despite winning a franchise-record 102 games -- but it would guarantee another World Series title in five years, I bet almost everybody would say, "OK, let's do it."
So the problem isn't signing players to long-term contracts or not. If it buys out their first couple years of free agency while they are in their prime, it makes sense. No, the problem is knowing how far to go with those players and realizing when they are on the decline to cut bait and move on.
Because Cliff Lee is no longer pitching, would Klentak be open to offering him a pitching-coach position if one came open?
-- Jodi S., Portland, Ore.
Personally, I don't think Lee would be interested in being a pitching coach.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.