Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. scoffed at reports that suggested the team may buy out the contract of slumping first baseman Ryan Howard either now or the end of the season.
After this year, the Phillies will owe Howard $60 million which consists of $25 million for both 2015 and 2016. There is a club option in 2017 with a $10 million buyout.
“All I can tell you is that’s not in our best interest,” Amaro said before Friday’s game at Citizens Bank Park against the Arizona Diamondbacks. “It’s not something that we've discussed.”
Howard was not in the starting lineup for the third consecutive game. The Diamondbacks are starting lefthander Wade Miley so the move wasn’t a surprise. Howard is hitting .207 with a .682 OPS this season against lefthanders.
What did surprise observers was that Howard didn’t start on Thursday against San Francisco Giants righthander Tim Hudson. Howard has a career .328 batting average in 80 plate appearances against Hudson.
Still, manager Ryne Sandberg seemed to indicate that it is part of a plan to give Howard a mental break.
“I had a good conversation with Ryan today,” Sandberg said before the game. “Of course he was upset not being in the lineup yesterday, and I would expect that.”
Sandberg says what is important is to keep the lines of communication open with Howard.
“I had a conversation yesterday and had a good conversation today about the reasoning behind it and what was hoping to come out of it for him and for the team and for a teammate,” he said.
Both Sandberg and Amaro said that the decision on playing was the manager’s.
Amaro insists that he feels Howard can be a productive player in the future for the Phillies, with this caveat.
“We don’t expect Ryan to be the Ryan Howard of ’06, ’07 ’08,” Amaro said. “But we know he’s a more productive player than he has been over this past month.”
From 2006-2008 Howard batted .277 with 153 home runs, 431 RBIs and a .980 OPS.
Conversely during this month, Howard is hitting .156 with one home run, nine RBIs and a .489 OPS.
“It's really been this month that people are focusing on, but sometimes guys need some time,” Amaro said. “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.”