While the Philadelphia Phillies sit and scratch their heads, trying to regroup from their Friday night ouster from the playoffs, fantasy owners of Ryan Howard, especially those in keeper leagues, have just as big a fish to fry. If somehow you missed it, on the final at bat of the Cardinals’ Game 5 victory over the Phillies, Howard stumbled out of the batter’s box, heard a pop, and crumpled to the ground. MRI results have revealed a torn Achilles tendon which usually requires atleast a six month recovery time, putting Howard’s potential return date sometime in April. Unfortunately, no legitimate timetable can be given until after the surgery takes place and he starts his rehab. So now the question is, what do fantasy owners do with him?
Since he burst on the scene in the second half of the 2005 season, Howard has been one of the more highly coveted first basemen in fantasy. Four straight seasons of 45 or more HR (a whopping 58 in 2006) with no fewer than 136 RBI kept him at the top of the position’s leaderboard and saw him go no lower than early in the second round (if first base wasn’t so darn deep, he was a first rounder in any league, no question). Sure the batting average wasn’t the most desirable, but you can overlook anything with 40 home runs coming.
The last two seasons, though, we’ve seen a bit of a decline in HR and RBI, but still, 30-100 is nothing to thumb your nose at and he was still one of the top first basemen off the board in drafts. However, this injury now changes everything. According to Dr. James Barnett, a member of the Association of Professional Team Physicians and team physician for the NBA’s Orlando Magic, recovery from such an injury can be daunting and “in older, less active individuals, we favor a more conservative approach, which involves casting and a lengthy period of immobilization. It is almost always a season-ending injury for the athlete because of the tenuous situation with the blood supply to the area. Complete healing needs to take place or there is a possibility of recurrence.”* Howard may not be considered old in the real world, but at 32 years of age, he’s certainly no spring chicken in the baseball community and while he may be considered an athlete, his level of activity is certainly lower, relatively speaking.
So between the uncertainty of his return date, a whole offseason dedicated to recovery and his recent decline, the deck seems stacked against him. Now throw in the depth of the first base position and Howard’s fantasy value will be at its lowest in almost eight years. There were nine other qualified first basemen who hit 30 or more home runs this year with another half dozen clearing the 25 HR mark. There are going to be far too many other, less risky options available come next season, with a slew of young, up and comers to be had. With no guarantee of Howard’s abilities after the surgery and recovery process, you would be much better served to find your first base power elsewhere. Sure, he could be a great buy-low candidate, but at this point in time, that’s too much of a risk to be willing to take. Remember when they said Kendrys Morales would be a great buy-low sleeper?