When Pete Mackanin met Wednesday with Ryan Howard to tell the $125 million first baseman that he was benched for at least the next three games, the Phillies manager told him to consider it as an all-star break.
But during a typical all-star break, a player does not stand to lose his job. And in the coming days, that is what could happen to the franchise icon.
"I told him I get it," Howard said. "I know where I am right now. You know, I understand. By no means am I trying to relinquish my job or anything but, you know, I've played the game long enough to know and understand."
All that can be said about Howard and the Phillies has been said. The only remaining drama is how this once-fruitful marriage will end. Mackanin's decree on Wednesday was the clearest sign yet that the Phillies could move past Howard, a symbol of old. Tommy Joseph will start at first base for three or four days — all games against righthanded pitchers. Could Joseph win the job?
"Possibly," Mackanin said. "Hey, we like him. We'll see what he does."
Mackanin said he had "an adult conversation" with Howard about the awkward situation. Howard, after that talk, went to Joseph with a message.
"The mental game of preparing is different when you know you're going to be in there," Howard said. "I said, 'Hey, you're in there the next three or four days, whatever it may be. Do what you've got to do. Go out and kick some butt.'"
No one wants to be the one to bench or release a franchise icon, but Howard's poor play has necessitated difficult conversations like the one Mackanin had with his highest-paid player. His .154 batting average would be the lowest in Phillies history for a player with at least 150 plate appearances. Howard has a .558 OPS. He is owed approximately $26 million.
"It's not something you like to deal with," Mackanin said. "We'll just give him three or four days off and start all over. See where it leads."
Mackanin said he did not consult the front office before speaking to Howard. Why now?
"It's not so much about Ryan," Mackanin said. "It's about seeing the younger guy who tore it up in triple A and came up here to make a good first impression. We want to get a look at him. As we know, this season is about the future. We're in the middle of a rebuilding process."
That process, for now, will move forward with Howard on the bench.
"No, I'm not going to quit," Howard said. "That's not in the vocabulary. That's the easiest thing to do, is quit and give up when things are hard. You really see what you're made of when those things are not going the way you want them to go. Things are real easy when you're going good and everybody's all behind you and this and that.
"You have to continue to just battle. And that's what I'm going to do."
The Phillies purchased Jimmy Paredes from Toronto and added him to the bench as Emmanuel Burriss was designated for assignment. Paredes, 27, has a career .667 OPS in 256 games with four teams over six seasons. He plays third base, second base, and the corner outfield spots. He hit 10 homers with 17 doubles for Baltimore last season. He had already been designated for assignment by two teams in 2016. … Cody Asche's minor-league rehab assignment ended Wednesday, and the Phillies are expected to activate him Thursday.