Through last night's IronPigs game, Maikel Franco is putting up a .385/.442/.667/1.109 slash line in AAA. That's pretty impressive. The most developed of the Phillies top tier of prospects has eight extra-base hits over his first nine games, and is providing the kind of pop that the Phillies themselves could sorely use. Now, it's worth noting that he's not coming up until at least mid-May, when he cannot accrue enough service time to reach free agency until after 2021. Still, at that time, if he continues to hit, you will see Maikel Franco in Philadelphia to stay.
Franco is a natural third baseman though, and the 22 year old is blocked there by 24 year old Cody Asche, a fellow youngster who is hitting well in the majors. Asche is off to a .361/.425/.500/.925 start himself, becoming a middle of the line-up player for a Phillies team that does very little well offensively. One might say the Phillies have a choice between the two, and they kind of, sort of do. Only one of them will play third base every day, obviously, moving forward. Both can do other things though. Franco has played first, which is currently occupied by a 35 year old Ryan Howard who is struggling so badly he lost his long-time role in the clean-up spot. That spot could also be occupied by former minor league star Darin Ruf, who has shown flashes of hitting in the majors, but has neither proven he can stick in the bigs, nor has he been given the chance to. Asche can also play other places as well, having played second base in the minors, a spot currently occupied by the struggling fan-favorite, 36 year old Chase Utley. If not second, Asche is athletic enough to try the outfield, and certainly has the arm. The outfield is about to get more crowded though when Dom Brown returns, so playing time isn't going to be plentiful there.
Under the scenario where Franco is still hitting well a month from now, there is no way that an offensively incapable team like the Phillies will pass on promoting him to the majors. When they do that, he will have to play. The Phillies can play him at third base if they wish (last year he had the top rated glove there in the International League), but there is no way they should sit Asche at his age, even if he is struggling then. The reality here is that it's time for the Phillies to make some moves. It's time to make room for the young guys.
Which leads me to the future of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley particularly. Both players are largely responsible for the 2008 World Championship, and the success of the team over the five year run from 2007 to 2011. Both players now make a lot of money and are no longer as good as they once were. In Utley's case, there is still a decent chance another team would take him for the right price, meaning the Phillies should simply keep him and try to trade him once he gets hot. In Howard's case, that ship has sailed away. Howard has been my favorite Phillies player, and has been a generally good guy while on this team, but his days need to be numbered. They have been trying to trade him since last season, and have not received an offer (or didn't receive one acceptable, which is a commentary on our GM more so) that they accepted. He has not regained form at any point and helped the team. Pitchers are now simply pumping fastballs by him, unlike in times past when no one would throw him a fastball. His defense was never great, but his offense is now embarrassingly bad. At the end of May, Howard's future payroll liability will be just shy of $52 million. Reports in the off-season had the Phillies willing to eat about $50 million to move on from Howard in a trade. One would have to think at that point he could very well be released. There is no reason for anyone else on the roster to lose at-bats to Howard.
Whether it's trading Chase or releasing Howard, or preferably both, it's time for the Phillies to move on from the 2008 era team by any means necessary. It has been for a while, but it is more so now. Maikel Franco should not lose a single at-bat because these two are on the team. Cody Asche should not lose a single at-bat because these two are on the team. Even Darin Ruf and Dom Brown shouldn't lose at-bats because of Howard or Utley (though they should possibly for other reasons). Neither Howard or Utley will be a productive player for the Phillies in 2017 and beyond, the target to compete again, and so neither should block the Phillies from developing any potential they have moving forward. It's time for Ruben Amaro to stop looking for the "right" deal to break up some of our older players, and instead to get on with making a move that opens space for this team to grow.