SCRANTON, Pa. -- Ryan Howard wants to play in Philadelphia someday. He's hoping it will be for the Phillies and not as a visitor.
But if wearing a visiting uniform at Citizen's Bank Park is what it will take to make it to the Major Leagues, then so be it. To that end, Howard's agent, Larry Reynolds, sent a letter to Philadelphia general manager Ed Wade two days ago, the subject of which was a formal trade request. With Jim Thome firmly entrenched at first base in Philadelphia, the likelihood of Howard breaking into the lineup is slim.
Howard was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at the end of Spring Training. The Red Barons held their media day Tuesday at Lackawanna County Stadium, and the left-handed slugger was a popular subject with the small group of reporters on hand. Fittingly, Howard stood with his back to a wall as he deflected questions about a trade, referring the matter to Reynolds.
"People are thinking it's not a great opportunity for him to play with Jim Thome there," Reynolds told MLB.com. "We told [the Phillies], and they said that they have to do what's best for the organization. There's really not much else to say. Basically all we did was to send them a letter. There wasn't much discussion."
Wade acknowledged receipt of the letter but said the correspondence hasn't done much to influence his or the organization's stance on Howard. There is currently no plan to trade him.
"He [Reynolds] put it in writing what he's already verbalized to me," Wade said. "It's just a letter. We received it. We weren't the ones that made it public that the letter was sent, so I don't feel compelled to respond [to it]. If we get to a point where we think it's in our best interest to do something different, then we will. It's not even a process. There's no mechanism for a player with 30 days of big league service to demand a trade, so it's just expressing a desire on the part of his client. I acknowledge that we received the letter, but it doesn't change our thought process.
"We believe Ryan's got the ability to have an outstanding big league career and will have an outstanding big league career. But at this point, we feel we're adequately covered at the big league level, and he's a developing player. At some point, if we have to make a decision with regard to trading him, we'll make it at the appropriate time."
Howard had a monstrous season in 2004, hitting .290 with 48 homers and 136 RBIs while playing for Double-A Reading, Scranton and Philadelphia. He connected for two of those homers and drove in five during a 19-game showcase with the Phillies last September. But when camp began this season, Howard knew there was little chance of his making the roster as a first baseman.
The club felt the same way and began working with him in left field. Though he never got into a Grapefruit League game as an outfielder, he did play 18 defensive innings during Minor League and intra-squad games. The extra work in the outfield didn't hamper Howard's production as he hit .315 with three homers and nine RBIs in 54 at-bats. He also had a .537 slugging percentage.
As Spring Training drew to a close, though, the Phillies abandoned the idea of Howard playing the outfield, preferring that his focus be on first base. At the moment, there are no plans for him to play anywhere but in the infield for the Red Barons. When asked if he would volunteer to play left field at Scranton, Howard seemed to think it really wouldn't matter.
"I don't know how it's going to go," Howard said. "It still might just come down to the guys up top saying put him out there. But it was kind of an all-of-a-sudden thing [stopping the outfield experiment] as far as not getting the opportunity to see what's going on in the outfield. I worked out there pretty much until the last week and a half [of spring].
"I think that anybody asked to change positions has their moments where they have to prove themselves. But it's whatever gets you to the big leagues. I embraced it because that's the goal. I didn't have a problem trying to play left field. I was getting comfortable and felt like I was doing all right with my foot work and reads. I was getting used to it."
Howard added that he didn't know if he had anything to prove at Triple-A, though he still believes he has plenty to prove to himself. He said he isn't worried about what other people are saying or thinking, that he's just focusing on playing, regardless of where he is. The rub, however, is that he doesn't know whether he benefits by playing every day in Scranton.
"That's one of those Catch-22 questions," Howard said. "You're up there getting experience and learning. You might not be playing every day, but you're getting the experience. Down here I'm going to play and try to hone my skills.
"My main objective is to get to the big leagues. Whether it's with this organization or another organization, the goal is the big leagues. As far as trades go, that's not my call. The main thing about big league ball, the easy part is getting there. The hard part is staying there, and I have to make sure I get up there to stay."
Gene Lamont, the new manager at Scranton, confirmed there were no plans to play Howard anywhere but at first, realizing the tough spot in which the young slugger finds himself.
"They have Jim Thome there, but they talked about left field," Lamont said. "It's a frustrating position to be in for Ryan's spot. But if he shows the kind of hitter he is in Triple-A, there will be a lot of interest in him."
There's already been interest, and Wade hasn't budged. Likely, he won't for the foreseeable future.
"We feel it's appropriate for him to continue to perform at Triple-A getting at-bats, and, if we have a need, it's good to know we've got him there," Wade said. "If at some point, we feel it's appropriate to do something different, we will. I know this is a player who had an outstanding season a year ago. At the same time, I'm also aware that there are a lot of good players who, in the early stages of their career, had to wait their turn."