The Phillies have declined their 2017 club options for first baseman Ryan Howard and right-hander Charlie Morton, per a team announcement. Philadelphia will now pay Howard a $10MM buyout in lieu of the $23MM that it would have owed the slugger had it picked up the option. Morton would have made $9.5MM next season, but he will receive a far more modest $1MM buyout instead.
The club’s decision to move on from Howard comes as no surprise, but it’s the end of a long era that was quite fruitful at times. A fifth-round pick in 2001, Howard debuted in earnest in 2005 and served as one of the majors’ preeminent home run threats from then until 2011. Howard clubbed at least 45 home runs in four seasons during that span, including a majors-best 58 in 2006 en route to National League MVP honors. Two years later, Howard once again paced the league with 48 long balls in a season that ended with the Phillies’ first World Series championship since 1980.
On the strength of his early success, the three-time All-Star signed a five-year, $125MM extension with the Phillies in April 2010, but the deal was mostly disastrous for the team. From that point forward, Howard batted an underwhelming .240/.314/.452 in 3,386 plate appearances, though he did add 160 more homers to give him 382 as a Phillie – second in club history to Mike Schmidt’s 548. Between his declining offense and inability to contribute as a baserunner or defender, Howard combined for a microscopic 0.4 fWAR during his final seven years with the franchise. The soon-to-be 37-year-old indicated in September that he wants to continue his career, but it’s likely his only hope will be to catch on as a designated hitter with an American League team. Even that might be a stretch, though, as Howard slashed just .196/.257/.453 in 362 PAs this year while ceding at-bats to Tommy Joseph.
Morton should fare better than Howard on the open market, but injuries have beset the 32-year-old throughout his career and that continued in 2016. After making just four starts, Morton underwent season-ending surgery on a torn left hamstring. The Phillies hoped Morton would serve as a veteran anchor to their young pitching staff upon acquiring him from the Pirates last December, but the injury prevented that from happening. When healthy, Morton has been a usable back-end option, having pitched to a 4.54 ERA while inducing grounders at a 55.4 percent clip in 893 career innings. From 2013-14, his best two-year stretch, Morton logged a 3.52 ERA and 58.9 percent ground-ball rate in 273 1/3 frames.