Ryan Howard Trade Rumors: Latest Buzz and Speculation Surrounding Phillies Star

March 18, 2015 by Brandon Galvin  
Filed under Fan News

Ryan Howard has been a cornerstone for the Philadelphia Phillies throughout his career, but it remains to be seen if he'll stay with the organization as it considers trading him away.

Continue for updates.


Phillies Reportedly Cover Financial Burden to Move Howard

Wednesday, March 18

Anthony Castrovince of Sports on Earth reported news of the Phillies' attempt to trade Howard:

Howard is not, will not be and arguably never was the guy worthy of a $125 million extension in 2010, and the Phillies acknowledged as much in trade talks this winter, telling (uninterested) teams they're willing to swallow a significant sum of the $60 million still owed to Howard over the next two years. Word is, the team would be willing to take on somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million.

The Phillies appear to be at a crossroads entering the 2015 regular season. The team is currently dealing with an injury to Cliff Lee, which could eventually require surgery. Veteran pitcher Cole Hamels has been in trade rumors for months, and this isn't even the first time we've heard Howard's name mentioned in trade talks.

On March 9, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, citing sources, reported "the Orioles are keeping an eye on Howard this spring." It's no surprise teams would be monitoring Howard, as he is performing fairly well thus far in spring training, according to Castrovince:

Scouts have noted that Howard has looked more fleet of foot and bat alike. On Sunday, he went deep for the second time this spring. Manager Ryne Sandberg noted Howard has found a stance and a swing that allows him to utilize the whole field.

"I think he's found something he's comfortable with," Sandberg said, "and he's getting results."

If the Phillies feel the organization is best suited long-term by moving Howard in order to develop a younger player, covering the majority of his salary is a worthwhile move. The Orioles would also make sense as a trade partner since the Phillies wouldn't have to see Howard in the American League, and at 35 years old with injury concerns, Howard would be a suitable designated hitter. 

Despite playing in 71 games in 2012 and 80 games in 2013, Howard bounced back last season to play in 153 games. For his career, Howard has accumulated 334 home runs and 1,058 RBI.

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Cliff Lee’s Career-Threatening Injury Is a Sounding Alarm to Trade Cole Hamels

March 16, 2015 by Anthony Witrado  
Filed under Fan News

Cliff Lee has sent Ruben Amaro Jr. his much-needed wake-up call.

Now it is up to Amaro to actually wake up.

Lee is the Philadelphia Phillies former ace and currently a 36-year-old left-hander whose balky elbow has him face to face with the end of his successful career. Amaro is the Phillies’ general manager and currently the man who still has not traded his one strong bargaining chip and current left-handed ace, Cole Hamels.

But Amaro should not be that guy for much longer. He should move Hamels in the near future if not immediately. And if he keeps Hamels longer than that, then he should cease to be the team’s GM. Either way, Amaro should not be that guy for much longer.

Don’t hold any precious breaths waiting for that to happen, though. Lee’s career-threatening elbow injury is not going to push Amaro into trading Hamels, and apparently, neither is any other injuries to pitchers on other clubs.

“Nope,” Amaro told ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark when asked if his asking price on Hamels has softened after Lee’s injury. “Why would it change? No reason to change it.

“I don't know what our 'stance' on Cole is. Others have 'stances,' I guess, for us. I guess other people must think we have a 'stance.' Our 'stance' is that we're open-minded. And that hasn't changed one bit.”

But open-minded in Amaro’s world seems to differ from common folk.

Here is the Cole Hamels Situation, or “stance,” as we have come to know it since last July at the non-waiver trade deadline: Amaro has refused and will continue to refuse any trade offer for his ace that does not completely knock him off his designer loafers.

The inherent injury risk of hanging onto Hamels does not even register into Amaro’s thinking.

“There's no lesson learned from Lee's situation because it's a totally different situation. One guy is hurt. The other guy is completely healthy,” Amaro dissected to Stark.

“All pitchers can get hurt. All players can get hurt. It can happen any time,” Amaro later added. “That has nothing to do with the way we go about our business, [by] planning for a player to get hurt. That doesn't make any sense.”

Understandable. You do not “plan” for a player’s injury without any pre-existing knowledge that he is prone to having one, which is Hamels’ situation. Still, trading your most valuable asset at his highest value in order to fully kick-start your team’s rebuild is not the same as planning for injury.

It is just wise, especially when we have now learned over the last eight and a half months that Amaro’s dream package is not dropping onto his doorstep. And if it does between now and next July 31, it likely means that the pieces he covets have significantly lost value to their current organizations, which also does not bode well for the Phillies.

The teams the Phillies have flirted with—the Red Sox, the Rangers, the Yankees, the Padres—have aggressive but analytical front offices. If they are unwilling to part with key prospects at this point, especially when they lack a true ace (Red Sox) or have just lost one for the season (Rangers), their minds are unlikely to change. This becomes particularly true next offseason when you consider the crop of available starting pitchers might be the deepest in the history of free agency.

And if Amaro hangs onto Hamels beyond this coming July, his value drops dramatically with three years instead of four on his contract, another year of age and mileage on his arm and plenty of other options on the market that do not cost high-end prospects.

“Again, if there were deals that we felt were appropriate for us to move forward, then we would,” Amaro told Todd Zolecki of MLB.com last month before Lee was hurt and before the Rangers lost Yu Darvish to Tommy John surgery. “So far some of the deals that we've discussed with some of our players have not yielded what we've wanted to do. And in some cases, we feel like we're better off staying with the players that we have for a variety of different reasons. We'll move forward accordingly.”

But what forward is there to move toward without a trade for Hamels? The team has no other pieces worth salivating over, and it is clearly not in a position to win anytime soon, with or without Hamels. Hamels understands this and has stopped barely short of asking for a trade to a contender during this spring training.

So instead of waiting for the eye-popping prospect package, which is just not available these days like it was when the Rangers traded Mark Teixeira in 2007, the Phillies ought to seek their best available offer as soon as possible and be done with this cloud of constant speculation.

At one point this offseason, we all saw Lee, if healthy and effective, as a trade piece at some point before August. That option has been erased.

Now, Lee is a simply a reminder of one of the possible risks of hanging onto Hamels too dearly. His injury is not the reason Hamels should be traded but more of a notice of what could happen in a worst-case world.

The reason for a Hamels trade has long been upon us considering the Phillies have lost 259 games in the last three seasons. And until now, Amaro has engaged in the kind of hardball no other MLB executive is willing to play, and it is costing his franchise valuable time in its attempt to regain relevancy.

Lee’s elbow is Amaro’s alarm sounding. The Phillies now have to hope his snooze button is broken.

 

All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Ruben Amaro’s Strategy Will Set Phillies Back for Years

March 11, 2015 by Heath Clary  
Filed under Fan News

As NFL free agency gets underway, there has already been a slew of trades that have changed the landscape of the league.

The Philadelphia Eagles have been arguably the most aggressive team, getting rid of several integral parts from last year's squad and loading the roster with new faces.

Love or hate Chip Kelly, it kind of makes sense. The Eagles were not successful enough in 2014—they missed the playoffs—so Kelly decided to make drastic changes.

Across the City of Brotherly Love, the Phillies are not abiding by the same logic. After winning the National League East every year from 2007-2011—including a World Series title in 2008—the Fighting Phils have been more hapless than anything else.

Common sense would suggest that some changes might need to be made, but the Phillies' front office hasn't really made any.

Instead of trading a few veterans in an attempt to bolster the farm system and build for the future, general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. has decided to dole out huge contracts to over-the-hill players and refuses to trade them even when their value is high.

Back in 2010, the Phils signed Ryan Howard to a 5-year, $125 million extension. To be fair, that was when he was a premier slugger and MVP-caliber player. But he was 30 years old at the time, and the extension would last into his late 30s. For an overweight, one-dimensional first baseman, maybe it wasn't such a smart decision.

However, hindsight is 20:20, and nobody could predict Howard totally falling off a cliff.

But when Amaro comes out  in the offseason and says it would be better if Howard was not a part of the team, it 's obviously not a good situation.

Also, they signed Chase Utley to an extension back in 2013 when his productivity was already declining. Again, it's a case where Amaro chose to sign a player into their late 30s.

It's easy to second guess these deals now, but past history shows that players usually do not sustain their greatness in their mid-to-late 30s.

As a result, the current Phillies roster is filled with former All-Stars who are well past their prime. The team has plenty of holes, and the thought of them contending in the NL East is a complete joke.

This is a team that needs to go into full-scale rebuilding mode—as the Chicago CubsHouston Astros and New York Mets have in recent years—in hopes of being legitimate contenders three, four or five years down the road.

It's pretty clear Amaro hasn't executed a successful agenda to this point, and a problem seems to arise when he refuses to consider other approaches.

In a recent article by ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, Stark outlines a conversation he had with the embattled Philadelphia GM.

As I read the article, some quotes really stuck out to me.

Basically, Stark was wondering if Cliff Lee's recent injury would change the way Amaro approached future trade opportunities involving Cole Hamels.

He continued to rephrase the question in an attempt to get his point across, but Amaro refused to budge from his position.

This is what Amaro said after Stark asked him if the Lee injury at all changed the organization's stance on Hamels:

I don't know what our 'stance' on Cole is. Others have 'stances', I guess, for us. I guess other people must think we have a 'stance.' Our 'stance' is that we are open minded. And that hasn't changed one bit.

He says they are open minded, but he demonstrates the opposite. He has shown a tendency to cling to his old ways, overvaluing his players and refusing to negotiate.

The most recent and compelling example of this tendency is the Hamels sweepstakes.

According to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Phillies asked the Dodgers last season for their top three prospects; outfielder Joc Pederson, shortstop Corey Seager and left-handed pitcherJulio Urias.

All three of those Dodger prospects are among the most highly touted youngsters in all of baseball—they were all ranked in the top 15 of MLB.com's 2014 Prospect Watch—and nobody on the planet would give away that kind of special talent for a non-elite pitcher like Hamels. 

Then, Rob Bradford of WEII.com reported in January that the Phillies were "unrealistic in their expectations" of the market for Hamels, possibly asking for Boston top prospects Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart in a potential deal.

If the Phillies truly believe that Hamels is worth that much, then I applaud them for sticking to their guns, but I would also say that maybe it would be prudent to at least go back and forth with other teams. It never hurts to negotiate.

Amaro also repeatedly told Stark that the Lee injury would in no way affect how they look at Hamels:

Is there a lesson learned from Yu Darvish? All pitchers can get hurt. All
players can get hurt. It can happen anytime. That has nothing to do with the way we go about our business, [by] planning for a guy to get hurt.

That line doesn't make much sense; he is basically fueling the competing argument. Stark was trying to make a case for trading Hamels now while he is healthy because pitchers are getting hurt at such a high rate recently.

Amaro responded by agreeing that pitchers get hurt all the time. Yes, that's kind of the point. The fact that pitchers are getting hurt at such an alarming rate means that it makes sense to at least consider trading Hamels while he is in good health.

Again, at least consider it. Don't completely disregard that line of thought, especially when the Phillies have not only one of the least-talented big league rosters but also a poor farm system.

It would be one thing if Amaro has had success as a general manager. If he were very good at his job, then maybe he would have an excuse for sticking to what he's always done.

But he simply has no track record of being a competent executive. One must not forget that Amaro was not the GM when the Phillies won the World Series—he took over that position in 2009.

All Amaro has done is oversee one of the most dramatic MLB plunges in recent memory. The Phillies were one of the worst teams in the league in 2014, and they did nothing to change that this offseason.

In his first three years on the job, when he enjoyed the success of the former general manager's efforts, the Phillies went a combined 292-194, which is extremely good.

He inherited stars such as Roy Halladay, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Howard and Utley and watched them do big things while they were in their prime.

However, as the roster aged and Amaro didn't make any major changes, the team has plunged to the National League cellar. They have gone 227-259 the past three seasons and have not finished above .500 in any of those years.

So, all in all, when you are a baseball executive who doesn't appear to have done anything on your own, I think it would be prudent to at least consider other opinions.

Standing pat has not worked out too well for Amaro so far. It seems borderline insane to believe that continuing to follow the same failing strategy will somehow yield positive results in the future.

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Cliff Lee Surgery Would Add Pressure on Phillies to Get Cole Hamels Deal Right

March 9, 2015 by Jason Catania  
Filed under Fan News

Cliff Lee's left elbow made it through just one spring training start—and all of two innings—last Thursday before he was shut down the following day with another bout of elbow discomfort in the same spot that plagued him for much of 2014.

The 13-year veteran went for an MRI on Sunday that revealed some inflammation, and while it's too early to tell yet, Lee did acknowledge that surgery is at least a possibility. If that's how this plays out, then Lee's 2015 season will be over before it even begins—and there's a chance his baseball career could be finished too.

"It would be 6-8 months out," Lee said, via Matt Breen of The Philadelphia Inquirer. "So basically if I have the surgery this season will be done. Possibly my career I guess. I don't know. We'll have to see."

And just like that, all the pressure is back on general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and the rest of the Philadelphia Phillies front office to do right by a rebuilding organization and make the most out of the club's final big trade chip, Cole Hamels.

Were it only about his success, experience and postseason history, Lee would make for an enticing option for the Phillies to peddle to clubs eying a proven starter—provided, of course, they made the $37.5 million Lee is owed more palatable.

But combined with that amount of money, this latest run-in with elbow discomfort or soreness makes Lee absolutely immovable.

As Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News writes:

The Phillies (and Lee) obviously hoped to see the pitcher progress this spring without any issues. Had Lee stayed healthy, he could have been a nice trade chip for Amaro and Co. ... and Lee himself could have potentially joined another team prior to the July trade deadline as he pursues an elusive World Series ring.

That is out the window at this point. If Lee weren't considered damaged goods after making just 13 starts in 2014—none after July 31—due to elbow problems, well, he definitely is now.

Even if Lee were to be OK enough to pitch in the first half of the season, there's just not going to be much interest in or market for a 36-year-old left-hander with a contract that is cumbersome (and then some) and, more importantly, an elbow that is unwilling to cooperate.

Which brings us back to Hamels, who now more than ever is Amaro's last chance to turn the aging, injury-prone core of what was a top-notch team for several years into a batch of young, cost-controlled talent to help with a long-overdue rebuilding project that has just begun.

A 31-year-old southpaw, Hamels has been at the center of trade rumors dating back to last July and continuing all throughout this past offseason, as Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com notes.

While Amaro did manage to bring in some prospects, like Tom Windle, Zach Eflin and Ben Lively, by swapping longtime shortstop Jimmy Rollins and in-his-final-act outfielder Marlon Byrd, Hamels remains the lone piece that could net a return of real, franchise-altering value.

Nobody is knocking down Amaro's door to ask about closer Jonathan Papelbon, and nobody is even picking up the phone to inquire about first baseman Ryan Howard.

The reports all along have been that Amaro has refused to budge on his terms involving Hamels, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com. That means the GM won't trade him unless the acquiring club sends an elite package of prospects and picks up most, if not all, of the $96 million Hamels is due through 2018.

"Cole Hamels is a known entity," Amaro told Stark. "A known winner. A known World Series MVP. A known top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. If Cole Hamels continues to be Cole Hamels, which we fully expect him to be, why would [his trade value] decline?"

Funny, but a similar sentiment might have been uttered about Lee this time last year.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Hamels has a $20 million option for 2019 that he might want picked up if dealt, especially to one of the teams on his limited no-trade clause.

The good news here is that Hamels has yet to show any sort of decline or injury concern, meaning his value on the trade front remains relatively high. He is, after all, coming off a career-best 2.46 ERA last year.

That's a big reason why Amaro needs to get it right when it comes to trading Hamels, which feels like an inevitability by now, whether it happens in the month between now and the start of the regular season or by the trade deadline at the end of July.

It's also a big reason why Amaro should be willing to bend, if only a little bit, in his demands with regard to a return for Hamels. If nothing else, Lee—who had a 2.80 ERA while making at least 30 starts in each of his first three seasons since re-signing with Philadelphia—is an unmistakable example of how fast a pitcher's career can be derailed.

Here's Amaro's bottom line: More than ever, he needs to get it right when trading Hamels, but in light of Lee's latest ailment, the leverage is going in the wrong direction.

 

Statistics are accurate through Monday, March 9 and courtesy of MLB.comBaseball-Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

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Cliff Lee Injury: Updates on Phillies Star’s Arm and Return

March 8, 2015 by Tim Daniels  
Filed under Fan News

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee underwent evaluation after he felt elbow discomfort in the days following a spring training appearance. It was later revealed he has a tear in his flexor tendon. 

Continue for updates. 


Lee Throws Bullpen Session, Still Feels Discomfort

Wednesday, March 11

The Phillies provided comment from Lee after a bullpen session, who said, "It does feel a little better. There's still something there, but it's not bad. So if it stays the way it is, I think I will be good. Time will tell."

On March 10, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com revealed that Lee had a tear in his flexor tendon and that if the pitcher didn't show improvement, surgery was likely.

Jayson Stark of ESPN passed along comments from Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who said the team was "not terribly optimistic" Lee could avoid surgery.

"It would be six to eight months out. So basically if I have the surgery this season will be done. Possibly my career I guess. I don't know. We'll have to see," Lee said, courtesy of Matt Breen of The Philadelphia Inquirer on March 9. 

"Obviously you're going to take your chances on rest and rehab and that's what we did. So potentially I'm the 3 percent that needs surgery and potentially it's scar tissue breaking up and it's normal. But I think it's early to know which one it is," Lee added, per Breen. 

Stark recorded more comments from Lee regarding his current level of optimism: "I'm not going to go out there in pain to where something bad can potentially happen. I'm going to play as long as I comfortably can. When it’s uncomfortable to play and it hurts to play, then it's not worth it."

Lee also suggested he isn't sure about surgery, per Stark: "I've got a family at home and I've been away from them for a long time, so that is part of the equation."


Lee Scratched From Start

Sunday, March 8

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports passed along a statement from the Phillies:

Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News provided remarks from general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. about the situation.

"You have to be alarmed, we have to be concerned because it's the same area and he feels something," Amaro said. "It's the same area, the same issues he had last year."

Elbow trouble limited the left-hander to just 13 starts last season.

 

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Fit and Healthy, Former MVP Ryan Howard Angling for Late Career Rebirth in 2015

March 3, 2015 by Jacob Shafer  
Filed under Fan News

It was one game, two at-bats. Also, it's spring training. So take this with a boulder-sized grain of salt. Still, when it comes to Ryan Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies, any good news is welcome.

On Tuesday, Howard delivered some good news.

Hitting cleanup in the Phillies' spring opener against the New York Yankees (we won't count the embarrassing loss to the University of Tampa on Sunday), Howard went 2-for-2 with an RBI. And more importantly, he looked good doing it.

Here's manager Ryne Sandberg, discussing his much-maligned first baseman on Feb. 26, per NJ.com's Matt Lombardo: 

His body right now looks like it will allow him to be more productive. ... Just running the bases he even looks better. It looks like he has a much better chance of scoring from second base, much better getting to the cut-off spot playing first base. There should be some more range there with the way he looks from the waist down.

It was worth wondering how the former MVP was doing between the ears after Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told 97.5 The Fanatic's Mike Missanelli in December that it would "bode better for the organization not with [Howard] but without him."

Howard is owed $50 million over the next two seasons, plus a $10 million buyout for 2017. So it's no surprise Amaro found no takers in the trade market. Howard posted a paltry .223/.310/.380 slash line in 153 games last year and paced baseball with 190 whiffs.

"His lower half has quit on him," an unnamed evaluator told ESPN.com's Buster Olney after last season. "He just can’t move. I think of him as a .240, .250 hitter. He's not a legitimate 40-homer guy anymore; he’s a legitimate 20-homer guy."

Given Howard's trajectory, even those lowered expectations seemed Pollyanna-esque.

I say "seemed," but you could keep it in the present tense. Again, a little "best shape of his life" buzz and one good spring game don't erase three years of steady decline.

But imagine if Howard could recapture the form that led him to four consecutive top-five MVP finishes between 2006—when he won the award—and 2009.

How much would that guy fetch, either at the deadline or next winter, especially if the rebuilding Phillies were willing to eat part of his salary? 

That's jumping way, way ahead. Even if Howard keeps hitting and looking spry in the Grapefruit League, he'll have to translate that success to the regular season before anyone takes his comeback seriously.

The list of injury-plagued 35-year-olds who have resurrected their careers is a short one.

For the moment, though, Phils fans (always a critical bunch) can be forgiven for looking through rose-colored glasses. 

Howard is an easy guy to root for—affable, energetic and by all accounts a visible clubhouse presence. Last year, as CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury noted, that all melted away:

There were times in 2014 when you'd look at Howard plowing his way through pregame sprints and wonder if he really wanted to be there. You'd look at him walk dejectedly back to the dugout after one of his majors-leading 190 strikeouts and wonder what was going through his mind. Money can't buy confidence and Howard's appeared to be shattered in 2014. 

In addition to his on-field struggles, David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News reports Howard was embroiled in a legal battle with family members "over control of his finances."

So we're looking at a mountain of distractions that explain Howard's plightand cast serious doubt on his ability to overcome.

That doubt won't disappear tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, no matter what Howard does on the diamond.

Still, for a player who not so long ago ranked among the game's most feared sluggers, it had to feel nice to be the bearer of a little good news.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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