Speaking 35 days from the first player workout in Clearwater, Fla., Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. deemed it "likely" Ryan Howard will still be with the team come spring training.
That despite previously stating he told Howard that the Phillies, who are looking to get younger and rebuild, would be better off without the embattled first baseman.
"There's always awkwardness when we're making transitions, I think," Amaro said Friday before the annual Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet. "But I think Ryan knows what I think about him as a person and as a player. I think that if Ryan can get back to where he was or close to back to where he was, I think he can still be a productive player. A lot of it will depend on how healthy he is and how well-prepared he is."
Amaro has also previously stated the Phillies will not flat-out release the 35-year-old Howard, who has $60 million remaining on his contract and is coming off a season in which he slugged just .380. In the three years since his career-changing Achilles injury, the 2006 National League MVP has batted a combined .233. His 2014 campaign yielded 23 home runs, 95 RBIs, and a major-league-worst 190 strikeouts.
Howard, Amaro said, has "to prove to us [in spring training] that he's ready to play every day at first base for us."
"Right now, there's nobody really [at that position] that can unseat him," Amaro said. "He's a more productive player than anybody else we have there right now. But that could change.
"But he's going to get every opportunity to play and be our first baseman, and I think that he's going to be productive. Will he be productive enough to be part of what we want to do moving forward? We'll see. Again, he was a pretty productive player for us. Maybe not enough, but I think that Ryan can still be a very good, quality major-league player, and it's really kind of up to him to show us that he can do that."
Asked about Cole Hamels, Amaro not surprisingly didn't offer any hints regarding the trade speculation surrounding the Phillies ace. The team's pitchers and catchers hold their first spring training workout on Feb. 19.
"There's been a lot of speculation about him obviously and teams clearly would have interest and have had interest in him," Amaro said. "But right now he's our No. 1 starter, and I hope that he's ready to go and to pitch for us against Boston [on opening day]. A lot of things can change over the course of the next couple of weeks, but right now we expect him to be our No. 1 starter."
Cliff Lee is progressing in his rehab from last season's elbow injury and is set to throw off the mound in the next week to a week and a half, Amaro said. Lee has been long-tossing without pain, according to the GM. "That will be a good test for him, and we'll find out more about how he's progressing," Amaro said before noting the lefthander's health is "still a question mark, and until he's pitching in spring training and pitching like we hope Cliff Lee will pitch, then we'll know that he's healthy and ready to go." . . . At Friday night's PSWA banquet, former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel and former longtime Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler were honored with special achievement awards.