On Monday, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard showed up for what may be the most awkward Spring Training of his career.
The Phillies are in full rebuild mode and look to be less than competitive this season. Several members of the team, including pitcher Cole Hamels and closer Jonathan Papelbon have made no bones about the fact that if they can be dealt to a team that’s in contention to win something, they would welcome a trade with open arms. Other players, such as Chase Utley, have stated publicly they don’t want to go anywhere no matter how bad things get in South Philly.
And then there is Howard. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has said outright that dealing his first baseman and his $60 million salary was a top priority this offseason but he had no takers, even as he said the Phillies would cover a large chunk of that salary if they could move him. Which is no surprise as the first thing any team does in a rebuild is shed as much salary as you can.
But Amaro took it a step further when he went on the Mike Missanelli Show on 97.5 The Fanatic back in December and said
“We’ve talked to Ryan, and I told him that in our situation it would probably bode better for the organization [to be] not with him but without him. With that said if he’s with us, then we’ll work around him. We’ll hope he puts up the kind of numbers that we hope he can and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Ruben Amaro Jr. The master of tact.
Unsurprisingly, the Phillies didn’t get any offers for Howard and so here he is in Clearwater, getting ready for the 2015 season with the rest of the squad. He declined to speak with reporters and there is no timetable for when he may have a press conference with the media, so there is now way to gauge how he feels coming into a Spring Training where he is clearly not wanted. Even manager Ryne Sandberg declined to speak with Howard about his situation telling Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly.com
“That did not come up. He’s a professional and like everyone else he’s in camp to get ready for a season, get in the best shape possible, and get ready to go to help us win. Whatever else happens is on the business side of things and there’s nothing you can do about that.”
So the big question is: can Ryan Howard resurrect his career this season and show he is worth the $60 the Phillies are paying him or are his best days behind him?
Last season Howard batted .223, hitting 23 home runs while bringing home 95 runs. In July Howard was benched by Sandberg in favor of Darin Ruf to mixed results and it continued to go downhill from there.
So in a way, Howard has nowhere to go but up. If he can stay injury free and get his groove back, there is no reason to think Howard can’t improve his numbers, at least enough so another team might be interested in acquiring his services.
Plus, there is the simple fact that there are few things that can inspire someone like spite, and I’m sure Howard would like nothing more than to prove Ruben Amaro Jr. wrong.
This is a make of break season in many ways for Ryan Howard. While he is definitely not the dominant hitter he once was, I wouldn’t bet against him just yet.