Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has made no secret of his intentions to play Tommy Joseph more in September. The club also recalled Darin Ruf for the final month of the season. All of which begs the question, what will Ryan Howard's role look like as the former National League MVP closes out his 13th and final year in red pinstripes?
Apparently, it means Howard isn't going to be seeing much action as his Phillies career comes to a close, and the slugger is none too pleased about the decision as he revealed to Bob Ford for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"You're talking about an evaluation process of where you've gotten to see players this year play. And you'll have another opportunity to see those same players play again next year and I won't be here," Howard said before Wednesday's game against the Nationals. "So, for me, I just want to play. I don't necessarily think it's right or fair, considering this is my last month here, but it is interesting."
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As Ford notes, Howard has several reasons to be unhappy.
For starters, Howard actually enjoyed a strong month of August at the plate, posting a .314 batting average, six home runs and 15 runs batted in. In fact, his swing has been coming around since July, when he hit .250 with three homers and five RBIs.
There's the sentimental reason that these will be among the final opportunities for Phillies fans to watch one of the franchise's greatest power hitters of all time. There are professional reasons, as Howard is viewing this as an opportunity to audition for other Major League teams.
"[This] has been an ongoing process the last three years," Howard said. "They were doing the same thing with Ruffie. It has nothing to do with Tommy. It has nothing to do with Darin. It has everything to do with the process. I'm just trying to play and go somewhere else and play. I think there comes a time when there needs to be more dialogue and more of an understanding of, 'Why now?' Now, when you've got three weeks left in the season? Why now? I'm going out and hitting and playing better and all of sudden it's another wrinkle."
Howard also points out that the Phillies will have plenty of opportunities to evaluate fellow first basemen Joseph and Ruf next season once he's gone. At the very least, all of this does beg the question why the front office wouldn't have done more to try to move Howard to a contender, like they did for Carlos Ruiz.
Perhaps there were no takers on Howard. Regardless, arguably his most legitimate gripe is the fact that Mackanin didn't come to speak to him about the changes that will be taking place moving forward. It seems Howard is finding out about it through the media, a lack of communication he finds frustrating.
"The manager shouldn't have to answer the question in the media. I think that's something that you talk to your players about. That's one thing. Having to answer that question as far as the evaluation process, for me it's tough. I'm not going to sit here and lie. I've got one more month here and I just want to play and finish out playing," Howard said. "So, it's like I'm just trying to do my time, finish out this last month, and try to keep playing somewhere else."
The idea of Howard playing beyond 2016 is something many people both inside the organization and out may not have considered, particularly the way he struggled for much of the season. He'll be 37 next year, is still batting south of .200 despite his recent surge with 20 homers yet only 30 runs scored, is a liability defensively and for what it's worth, there didn't appear to be much interest from another team in taking him on, regardless of cost.
That being said, it's difficult to argue Howard doesn't deserve better treatment than this. At the very least, Mackanin owes him an explanation, while the way he's swinging the bat probably warrants he at least continues to get the chances to play that he has been.
Which is not to say the Phillies are in an easy situation either. Sure, Joseph and Ruf can play next season, and you could make the case the next month isn't going to define their evaluations regardless. At the same time, this entire season has been all about the organization's future, and there's little reason to continue putting that off any longer.
Still, Howard has been here all along and playing his role as a true professional. He wasn't griping about playing time before, even wishing Joseph well and taking on a leadership role in the clubhouse. Who's to say what the Phillies owe him after rewarding him handsomely financially and sticking with him all year, even when he was batting as low as .148, but whatever it is, it's probably better than this.