Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. emphatically shot down reports, including the one on this website, that the organization is considering releasing struggling slugger Ryan Howard after the season.
“That is not something we are contemplating,” Amaro said Friday morning. “I don’t know where that’s coming from.
“Our goal is to try to get Ryan Howard straightened out so he can be a more productive player for us. As I’ve said in the past, I don’t expect him to be the Ryan Howard of 2006, 2007, 2008. What we expect is him to perform better than he is. I know he’s a better player than this.
“Has to keep working and it’s up to us to help facilitate that. That’s on him and on us to help him get back to being a productive player.”
Howard is owed $60 million after this season.
Amaro reiterated that releasing the player “has not been a thought.”
Amaro was asked if he expected to see Howard in Clearwater in February.
“I absolutely anticipate that to be the case, certainly,” he said.
Howard, 34, is hitting .224 with 15 homers, 57 RBIs and 118 strikeouts in 371 at-bats this season. His OPS is .682 and ranks 126th out of 162 qualifying major-league hitters. His OPS ranks 21st out of 23 qualifying major-league first basemen.
Over his last 25 games, Howard is hitting just .168 (16 for 95) with a .269 on-base percentage and a .221 slugging percentage. He has just three extra-base hits in that span.
Howard has not played in the Phillies' last two games. He sat out against lefty Madison Bumgarner on Wednesday and did not play against right-hander Tim Hudson on Thursday. Howard had traditionally hit Hudson well so his absence from the lineup Thursday appeared to be a benching by manager Ryan Sandberg. Before the game, Sandberg mentioned that he was considering platooning Howard with right-handed hitter Darin Ruf. The Phillies face a lefty pitcher Friday night so it will be interesting to see what the manager does.
Amaro said a platoon is possible.
“It’s a possibility, if we get more production from the team that way,” Amaro said. “But it doesn’t have be a straight platoon. The job of the manager is to put the best team on the field to win that night’s game.
“I don’t make up the lineup. I never have. I make suggestions from time to time, but the manager makes up the lineup. But if [a platoon] makes the team most productive, then maybe.”
Howard wasn't happy about sitting out the last two days, especially against Hudson on Thursday. Sandberg spoke to Howard. Amaro did as well.
“I think sometimes a player needs a break, just watch the game,” Amaro said. “Listen, probably no one is more disappointed than Ryan. He has a lot of pride.
“It happens to the best players in the game. Guys go in funks. He’s been there a while.”
Amaro said Howard “should have no concerns” about being released.
Amaro is deep in trade conversations with other clubs and it’s no secret that Howard’s name has been floated out there. CBS Sports reported that Amaro is “aggressively” trying to move Howard and is willing to eat a huge chunk of salary to do it.
Amaro has a policy of not commenting on trade rumors regardless of validity, but he did say, “I don’t know where that comes from. I don’t comment on BS like that.”
Howard was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005, the NL MVP in 2006 and a World Series winner in 2008. He averaged 50 homers and 143 RBIs from 2006 to 2009 and signed a five-year, $125 million contract in 2010, more than a year before he would have been a free agent. Howard ruptured his Achilles tendon in the final game of the 2011 season and has not been the same player since.
Amaro was asked if he believed the Howard contract, which runs through 2016, was a mistake.
“I’ll answer that question when the contract is over,” he said. “Just like I was asked with Pat Burrell’s contract. We were very satisfied with Burrell when he was on top of that fire truck with his dog.”