If you want to find a defender of Ryan Howard and the 5-year, $125 million contract awarded to the former MVP first baseman, Ruben Amaro Jr. is your guy.
Amaro, of course, is the general manager who signed Howard to that contract (with ownership signing off on the deal).
So on Day 3 of Howard's absence from the Phillies starting lineup, Amaro emerged to defend Howard and also manager Ryne Sandberg's decision to give his struggling slugger time off. As usual, Amaro stuck to not commenting on trade rumors, but he did say the organization doesn't have any plans on cutting ties with Howard at season's end.
"All I can tell you is that’s not in our best interest," Amaro said. "It’s not something that we've discussed."
And then, later: "I fully expect him to be our first baseman next year."
Here's is more of what Amaro had to say about the Howard situation:
Q: How do you take it when a guy you paid as one of the best players in the game is deemed by the manager not good enough to be in a starting lineup?
Amaro: I don’t think that’s the issue. I think it’s trying to get him right again. Right now he’s struggling. And I just think (Sandberg) is trying to get him some time, let him mentally get regrouped. Listen, everyone needs a break. And I think that’s more of what this is about than anything else. All of us want Ryan to be back and for Ryan to be as productive as he can be. I think that’s the goal.
Q: And of the rumors of Ryan getting traded?
Amaro: I’m not talking about the trade stuff.
Q: And the rumors of you guys considering releasing Howard after the season?
Amaro: All I can tell you is that’s not in our best interest. It’s not something that we've discussed.
Q: Can you win with him as your first baseman next year?
Amaro: We can if Ryan comes back and plays the way we think he can play. If he doesn’t, we have to figure out ways to get better.
Q: Given his last 3 years, body breaking down, decreased production, what’s your confidence level that Ryan can still get back to that? It’s been a few years.
Amaro: Listen, we’re hopeful. We went through this with Pat Burrell. He had some good years, some bad years and some years in between. I think that’s a part of the baseball process, particularly when you get older. Derek Jeter had a couple off years for a while and came back and was an All-Star. Chase Utley went down and became an All-Star. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. A guy can have a poor year one year and a great year the next.
Q: You like the effort he’s giving to get back to that point?
Amaro: Oh yeah, I don’t have any issue with his effort. There’s come combination of relaxation and focus, there’s some combination in there that will help him get there. We’ll see.
Q: This is obviously a delicate situation given his status in organization. How about yesterday, sitting against Hudson. What about the message that sends to him? Pisses him off?
Amaro: It’s not about pissing him off. I think it’s more about just again, giving him a break to get away from it. Sometimes when things aren’t going good, it doesn’t matter who’s pitching. We make a lot about these one-on-one match ups. Just because a guy has hit a guy well, if he’s not going good, that doesn’t mean he’s going to hit him well, whoever it may be. Again, it’s more about giving him a break, getting him away from it, getting him back on track.
Q: Does Howard have a future here?
Amaro: Of course he has a future with us. I don't know where people are coming up with him not having a future with us. He's a very big part of our organization. More than anything else this is about kind of giving Ryan a break, getting him back on track.
Q: What specifically does he need to do to get back into lineup and stay there?
Amaro: He needs to hit. I like it's a little bit of a combination of relaxing and at the same time focusing, believing in himself and believing that he can do the things he did in the past. As I said, we don't expect Ryan to be the Ryan Howard of 06, 07, 08. But we know he's a more productive player than he has been over this past month. It's really been this month that people are focusing on. But sometimes guys need some time. Not every season or every year is going to go smoothly and productively. Sometimes guys get into a funk and need to get out of it.
Q: Will you evaluate the Howard situation further after the season?
Amaro: Listen, everybody's being evaluated. That's part of baseball. We're all scrutinized and evaluated. I fully expect him to be our first baseman next year. Hopefully he's a very productive one.
Q: How do you think Ryan has dealt with this?
Amaro: Ryan's always had a good outlook on things, has been very positive and should continue to be so. He's a great person. He's got some terrific qualities about him. Takes a lot of pride in the fact -- he knows he hasn't been as productive as maybe he would like to be. There's probably no one more frustrated about it than he is. But that's part of the game. Hopefully he'll work through it.