Ryan Howard‘s time in Philly is winding down. On the year it has wound down pretty ignominiously, with the former MVP hitting .195/.249/.440 with 20 homers. August went well for him, however: he hit .314/.364/.706 with 6 homers in 16 games. Which is why he was perturbed when manager Pete Mackanin said on Tuesday that Tommy Joseph, with whom Howard has largely been platooning, will be getting some at bats against right-handed pitchers in September, not just his usual lefties.
Howard, speaking to Bob Ford of the Philly Inquirer:
“I don’t necessarily think it’s right or fair, considering this is my last month here, but it is interesting . . . I’m not going to sit here and lie. I’ve got one more month here and I just want to play and finish out playing . . . I think there comes a time when there needs to be more dialogue and more of an understanding of, ‘Why now?’ Now, when you’ve got three weeks left in the season? Why now? I’m going out and hitting and playing better and all of sudden it’s another wrinkle.”
Howard is mad at both not getting the playing time he wants and that the news of his reduced playing time for the final month came via Mackanin answering a reporter’s question as opposed to a face-to-face conversation. He likewise repeated, over and over, that he’s looking to finish out his time in Philly strong so he can latch on with another team in 2017.
All of which is understandable, but it’s also somewhat naive. Howard knows very well that, however much respect they have for him and his history there, the Phillies top priority is to win baseball games, particularly in the future. Doing that depends a lot on having a regular first baseman who can serve as an offensive threat and the organization is obligated to determine if Tommy Joseph can be that guy. That requires that he get looks against righties. And there is no better way to do that than against live major league pitching in games that count as opposed spring training 2017.
“Why now?” Howard knows exactly “why now.” He may not like it because it may harm his post-Philly playing career, but that’s not exactly the Phillies’ problem. They’re making the right decisions for the future of the organization. A future which has no place for Ryan Howard, as unfortunate as that may be.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Zach Buchanan report that the Diamondbacks are one of several teams that have used labs other than the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Utah to process COVID-19 testing. MLB has encountered delays with its testing, despite promising 24-hour turnaround time, so teams have tried other avenues — with the league’s endorsement — in order to get faster results.
The SMRTL had processed performance-enhancing drug screenings for MLB. The league converted it to process COVID-19 tests amid concerns that having a season and all of the testing that would be required throughout would take away testing resources from the general public. That some teams are utilizing labs other than the SMRTL suggests the league, indeed, is usurping those resources.
In prospect Seth Beer’s case, he tested positive for COVID-19. He needed to test negative twice consecutively to be cleared to return to play. Beer went to a third-party site in the Phoenix area. He received his second negative test and was cleared to return on July 9.
The Diamondbacks said that the labs they have used have assured them that they are not taking away tests from the public. That seems like a claim MLB and the D-Backs should demonstrably prove. Per Rosenthal and Buchahan, the D-Backs have gone to an outside lab about 20 times, which accounts for less than one percent of COVID-19 tests taken by players and staff. Still, those are 20 tests that could have been used by the general public. And if the D-Backs and a handful of other teams already are using outside labs, then the rest of the league likely already is or soon will be doing the same. In the end, there will be a lot more than 20 tests taken at outside labs by MLB players and staff. Considering that “Tier 1” players will be tested every other day throughout the season, the total of third-party tests taken — if things continue the way they are now — could easily reach into the thousands by the end of October.
We all want baseball back, but the players, coaches, and all other staff are no more important than cashiers, teachers, and delivery drivers, so they shouldn’t have more access to COVID-19 testing simply by virtue of being associated with Major League Baseball and all of its influence and financial muscle. It would be unethical for MLB to be cutting in line ahead of other people who need testing just as much as if not more than the players.