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Jul 21, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (6) hits a two RBI single during the fourth inning of a game against the San Francisco Giants at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Are Ryan Howard's days in Philly numbered?

This is starting to take on a bit of a soap opera feel.

Yesterday, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was presumably benched in favor of Darin Ruf. What made this move as a bit of a surprise was that for this “benching”, the Phillies were set to face San Francisco Giants starter Tim Hudson. Howard owns some nice numbers against Hudson. Same to be said about Howard’s career numbers against RHP.

There’s no question that the Ryan Howard we’ve seen over the past three seasons is far from the pre-2012 Ryan Howard.

2012: .219/.295/.423, 14 HR, 56 RBI, -1.2 bWAR, -1.1 fWAR in 71 G
2013: .266/.319/.465, 11 HR, 43 RBI, 0.8 bWAR, 0.5 fWAR in 80 G
2014: .224/.305/.377, 15 HR, 60 RBI, -0.4 bWAR, -0.1 fWAR in 97 G

His SLG for this season currently represents a career low.

I think it would be fair to say that Howard has never quite recovered from his Achilles injury based strictly on those offensive (or offensive, depending on which syllable you place the emphasis) numbers.

But Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg’s explanation for starting Ruf over Howard seem kind of weird, kind of out there. (from Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer):

“…I think it’s important to see what a guy like Darin Ruf can do also going forward.”

Add this from Jordan Hall of The SportsXchange (via Yahoo!):

“A benching?” Sandberg responded. “No, it was more of a case of Darin just getting here and I wanted to take a look at him for at least a couple of games and see where he’s at and then go from there.”

Does it make sense to bench Howard (even though he is clearly struggling) against a guy he’s had success in favor of a fresh call-up? All this so you “can see” Ruf? What’s waiting another day going to hurt, Ryne?

I think Sandberg might want to take search for a book entitled How to Better BS the Local Media because this explanation is as thin as it gets. Honestly, who cannot see through this?

To add to all of this “fun”, there’s also been chatter surrounding Howard, which at this point should be expected.

1. The Phillies are inclined to release Howard.

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. squashed this earlier today. (Per Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly):

“That is not something we are contemplating,” Amaro said Friday morning. “I don’t know where that’s coming from.”

Amaro also stated that the team is looking for Howard to be a “more productive player”, and that he’s not looking for the Howard of “2006, 2007, 2008″. With the numbers just presented to you, I strongly believe those productive days are a distant memory.

Or is this more like RAJ doing a bit of damage control, not only possibly soothing Howard, but rival GMs so a deal is more likely to occur? You be the judge on that one.

2. The Phillies are looking to deal Howard.

This comes on the heels of a report from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. From Heyman…

“Word from competing execs is that Philly would be willing to eat much or most of the $70 million remaining on his deal. On Wednesday, news leaked that the Phillies have considered whether just to cut Howard after the year. It’s hard to see how that could help his trade value, which has to be severely limited as it is.”

Heyman mentions that rival GMs also say an American League team is a more likely suitor. That way, no worries about Howard’s limited defense, so he can DH.

Seriously, who would want him? Howard’s production has declined into oblivion as has his ability to hit RHP (.229/.314/.368, 10 HR, 42 RBI in 315 PA this season). Could any contending team even view him as a valuable bench bat?

Whichever avenue the Phillies pursue, and as Heyman notes, the Phillies seem ready to eat most, if not all, of the remaining money owed to Howard. At this point, fans of the Phils should hope that if Howard is to no longer be on their team’s roster is that a trade transpires. You get some form of a return, as limited as it would be.

You have to imagine at this point that Philly fans would even take the proverbial bag of balls in return.

(Call to Hardball Talk)

Tags: Philadelphia Phillies Ryan Howard

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