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Phillies Rumors: trying "hard" to trade Ryan Howard

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The Phillies appear very motivated to move their benched first baseman, but is anyone really interested?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

*UPDATED AT 11:20AM ET*

The Ryan Howard Era is stumbling to a very unceremonious end.

After sitting against San Francisco starter Tim Hudson on Thursday, a pitcher against whom he had a career 1.112 OPS against with 7 HRs in 67 career ABs, it became clear to everyone that manager Ryne Sandberg and the Phillies' front office are done pretending the old Howard is coming back.

And while Howard was quite open and gregarious about his situation earlier in the week, after Thursday's game, he was a touch snippier about it.

Which is understandable. Howard likely didn't want to say anything that would get himself in trouble, and the man has earned some slack after being one of the most approachable and quotable players in the locker room over the years. Anyone upset over his tone yesterday hasn't been paying attention.

Yet, the situation is becoming uncomfortable and troublesome, and certainly doesn't help with the always-important "team chemistry." And simply moving on from the Ryan Howard Era isn't so easy, seeing as how he is still owed $70 million over the next three years of his contract.

Recent reports have said the Phillies discussed the possibility of releasing him after the season, however, general manager Ruben Amaro tried had to put out that fire this morning.

One rumor Amaro did not come right and quash, however, was this one.

ESPN's Jayson Stark noted in his Rumblings and Grumblings column on Thursday that the Phillies have been offering Howard to American League teams "for practically nothing," and all AL teams have said "not interested." That isn't hard to understand, given Howard is hitting .224/.305/.377, with a .682 OPS that is 23rd out of 24 qualifying first baseman in baseball (only Nick Swisher is worse).

That's not an upgrade for anyone, even at just $5 million a year.

Howard doesn't even work as part of a platoon, given that he is hitting .229/.314/.368 against right-handers this year. His slugging percentage and isolated power are both higher against lefties this season, a staggering reversal of his splits from his healthy years.

Perhaps there is a team out there that will eventually become willing to take a chance on Howard as a bounce back candidate for $3-5 million a year. And the Phils are not constrained by the July 31 deadline here, either. Howard's contract will sail through waivers next month, meaning he can easily be traded in August as well.

However, the smart money seems to be that he isn't going anywhere anytime soon, unless the Phils release him. And frankly, why would any American League team give up any kind of prospect if they believe there's a good chance the Phils are just going to release him after the season?

This is just sad. On all fronts, it's just plain sad.

Red Sox Still In On Hamels?

The odds of Cole Hamels being traded this month are still extremely low. But as Tampa reconsiders pulling David Price off the market and uncertainty over Cliff Lee's elbow remains prevalent among MLB GMs, Hamels is the biggest difference maker on the market. And maybe, just maybe, there is one team that is interested enough to overwhelm the Phils with an offer.

My heart says "no," but my head says, "I guess, if we have to."

You can't trade away underachieving players and expect to get franchise-building prospects in return. In order to get the type of blue chip young players needed to rebuild a roster, sometimes you have to move your best player. And make no mistake, Cole Hamels is the Phillies' best player, as evidenced by his unbelievable outing yesterday against San Francisco.

Is that enough, or would you like more proof that Hamels is the bee's knees?

So, with Phillies scouts at Boston's Double-A affiliate, who might they be looking at?

Catcher Blake Swihart is probably the main attraction, going into yesterday's game with a slash line of .296/.351/.486 with 11 HRs and 20 doubles. Left-handed starter Henry Owens is one of Boston's top pitching prospects, and he got the start yesterday. Although he struggled a bit (he took the loss after giving up five earned runs in four innings, raising his ERA to 2.56), he has 123 strikeouts and 45 walks in 116 innings.

Swihart came into the season as Boston's #5 rated prospect by Baseball America, while Owens was rated as the 6th best prospect by Fangraphs. Second baseman Sean Coyle is hitting .326/.401/.562 with a team-leading 12 home runs for the Sea Dogs, and the Phils could be interested in center fielder Derrik Gibson, who is hitting .319/.409/.419.

It's unclear if those players would headline any deal for Hamels, but they are all certainly players the Phils were probably watching closely. However, Stark talked to one exec who spoke with the Phils...

...they've all come away believing the Phillies asked for a package no one would possibly give up. "They're not trying to trade him," said one exec. "They're trying to see if they can get overwhelmed to trade him." And there's no indication that's going to happen.

Pirates Souring on Burnett

In a perfect world, A.J. Burnett would go back to Pittsburgh. But this perfect world we seek, it does not exist.

According to Heyman, the Pirates want Burnett to assure them that he will retire at the end of the season, and are not interested in acquiring the right-hander if he decides to exercise his player option - which barring an injury will be for about $12.75 million - for next year. That $12.75 million would be too rich for the Pirates' blood, and even if the Phils were to agree to pick up most of that bill, it's unclear if they even want to have him eat up a roster spot in 2015.

Heyman also noted, as did Stark, that the Baltimore Orioles aren't all that jazzed about Burnett, and the Yankees have said "no thanks."

Yet another "vesting option" put into a Phils' player's contract that is chasing teams away.

Marlon Byrd Interest

One of the potential Marlon Byrd suitors, the Seattle Mariners, appeared to remove themselves as a landing spot after acquiring Kendrys Morales from the Minnesota Twins. However, ESPN's Stark says Byrd still is the most likely Phillie to get traded, and that the Cincinnati Reds are are scouting him heavily. In fact, Stark also said the Royals and Mariners were still watching him.

Byrd has pretty much been anointed the best bat on the market. And don't chuckle. The only right-handed-hitting outfielders with more homers than his 19 are Nelson CruzGiancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout and George Springer. But there are issues with all three clubs most closely linked to him. Byrd's limited no-trade clause allows him to block deals to Kansas City and Seattle. And the Reds may not be able to take on the $3 million left on Byrd's contract this year. So every one of those deals would be a challenge.

One would think the Reds could scour under the cushions and find $3 million for Marlon this year. It's the next two years on Byrd's contract that could be the real problem. Byrd is guaranteed $8 million next season and has... wait for it... a vesting option for 2016 that will trigger another $8 million if he meets certain plate appearance thresholds.

Other Stark Notes

On Rollins & Utley...

The Phillies have shown zero interest in moving Utley... Rollins, on the other hand, has been dangled selectively to clubs that might need a shortstop. And one team that hasn't totally ruled it out is the Giants. But two sources termed that deal a "long shot" and "complicated," because it would involve the Giants moving Brandon Crawford to second base and Rollins waiving his trade-veto rights. So it would be an upset if that deal actually went down.

And on Antonio Bastardo...

Left-handed hitters are 7-for-50 against him, with 16 strikeouts (but 10 walks). So add Bastardo to the massive list of middle relievers who will get traded in the next week. At least a half-dozen teams are still in play on him.

Long exhale. A lot of smoke, not much fire right now, friends.