Before departing for Clearwater, Ruben Amaro Jr. reached out to Ryan Howard and asked him to come into the office.
Within the last two weeks, the embattled general manager spoke with the beleaguered first baseman. Amaro, mainly, wanted to make amends for comments he made concerning Howard’s place on the team two months ago.
“Frankly, I apologized for those comments that I made that were public,” Amaro said. “And I think he appreciated that. Other than that, I want to keep the conversation private. It was a good talk.”
In going full bore into rebuilding mode this winter, the Phillies attempted to trade many of their veteran players, including Howard. They were successful in moving some of their older players (Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd), but will begin full squad workouts on Tuesday with others (Howard, Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon) still on the roster.
Early in the offseason, Amaro told Howard of the team’s intentions - but then regrettably admitted doing so, without mincing words, in a radio interview before Christmas.
"We've talked to Ryan. And I told him that in our situation it would probably bode better for the organization not with him but without him,” Amaro admitted in the December interview. "With that said if he's with us, then we'll work around him.”
Howard, 35, is the most difficult of the Phillies veterans to trade because of his contract (he’s owed a minimum of $60 million) and his declining production (career low .690 OPS and .380 slugging percentage in 2014). Unless he’s already quietly checked in at some point in the last week, Howard is scheduled to arrive to Bright House Field today, when position players are required to report prior to the Tuesday's first full-squad workout.
It’s worth wondering what kind of mindset Howard will be in when he arrives, knowing the front office tried to trade him, including hearing it an unflattering manner from his boss two months ago. Additionally, second-year manager Ryne Sandberg benched Howard for three games last July as the first baseman’s production waned.
And, away from the ballpark, Howard spent the last year in a legal battle with his family over his finances. The parties settled out of court in October.
But Amaro is confident that the Howard he spoke with within the last 10 days is in a good state of mind as he begins the 2015 season.
“I think he’s motivated (all the time),” Amaro said. “He’s a competitive guy, he wants to do well for the Phillies. He wants to help us win. And I think that’s never really changed - he’s always been that guy. … He plays with passion, he wants to do well. I think people have to understand that. This is not somebody that is a negative force. This is a guy who’s always been a very positive person. Great teammate. Good person for the younger players to be around. Never had any issues.
“He went through a very tough time in the last season, with some of his personal stuff. But this is a very, very good person and a good teammate. And I hope our young guys learn from him as well, the way he goes about his business.”
Barring a spring training trade - or injury - Howard is in line to be at first base when the Phillies open the regular season at Citizens Bank Park six weeks from tomorrow.