Phillies officials “have contemplated the possibility of paying off” and releasing Ryan Howard

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Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was inked to a massive five-year, $125 million contract extension in April 2010 and is still owed more than $60 million in guaranteed money. But the 34-year-old is batting just .224/.305/.377 through 417 plate appearances this season and Darin Ruf got the start at first base for Philadelphia on Wednesday night against the Giants. Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com now reports that Howard’s future with the club is very much in question

The team has floated his name in trade talks, but Howard is owed the remainder of $25 million for this season and $60 million over the next two seasons. No team is interested in taking on that amount of money — or even part of it because the Phils know they’d have to eat a large portion of Howard’s salary — for a declining player.

The logical next step is to release Howard. Sources say team officials have contemplated the possibility of paying off Howard and moving on without him after the season.

“It’s been a disappointing year for me, period,” Howard told MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki on Wednesday afternoon. “Things haven’t necessarily shaped up the way I’ve wanted them to, coming back after basically not playing for the last two years, trying to make it through a full season. There have been a lot of highs and lows. A lot of frustration. There’s frustration from the fans, frustration period. I have my own frustrations as well. You know, it’s really, you try to stay positive. I know people are going to put a lot on either how much money I make, or what I’m doing on the field, this or that or whatever, but at the end of the day, you go out there and try, you try to do what you can. I’m really just trying to get back in the flow of things.”

The Phillies are expected to be one of the most active sellers at this year’s trade deadline.

It appears that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and Co. have finally been forced to embrace a rebuild.

2017 Preview: The National League West

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the National League West.

The Giants had the best record in all of baseball at the All-Star Break and the Dodgers lost the best pitcher in the world in Clayton Kershaw for a big chunk of the season. Yet, somehow, L.A. won the NL West by four games. The biggest culprit was the Giants’ suspect bullpen, which they put some real money toward fixing this winter. Is it enough? Or is a a Dodgers team with a healthy Kershaw just too talented for San Francisco to handle?

Below them is an intriguing Rockies team, though probably not a truly good Rockies team. The Dbacks have a lot of assorted talent but are nonetheless in reshuffle mode following a miserable 2016 campaign. The Padres, meanwhile, are in full-fledged rebuilding mode, but do possess some of the best minor league talent in the game.

Here are our previews of the 2017 NL West:

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres

2017 Preview: The American League West

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For the past few weeks we’ve been previewing the 2017 season. Here, in handy one-stop-shopping form, is our package of previews from the American League West

There’s not a lot of separation between the top three teams in this division. Indeed, it would not be a surprise for either the Astros, Rangers or Mariners to end the year on top. Part of that is because none of these contenders are perfect, with all three facing some big challenges in putting together a strong rotation.

Meanwhile, the best baseball player in the universe toils in Anaheim, where he’ll most likely have to content himself to playing spoiler. Up the coast in Oakland . . . um, green is pretty?

Our 2017 AL West Previews:

Houston Astros
Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Oakland Athletics