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By Ray Boyd

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — This has not been the best year for a number of members of the Phillies. The team is working to keep its collective head above water and with each passing day, the prime years of the core seem like a greater distant memory. That feeling holds true for Ryan Howard in particularly.

“The Big Piece,” has not been himself this season. He really has not been his “old self,” for much of the last three seasons as he has suffered and rehabbed several injuries.

The Phillies have been unable to rely on Howard the way they have in past years. That was no more evident than on Tuesday night when the Phillies fell to the Giants in 14 innings. Howard had an opportunity with a man on third and one out to give the Phillies the victory and he fittingly struck out.

It seems like the door is almost closed for Howard’s tenure as a Phillie. Speculation runs rampant and there is no way to know for sure what the brass is thinking, but the signs do not look good.

Several reports have brought up the notion of the Phillies buying out Howard’s contract at the end of the season. Howard is due to make $25 million next season.

Trade rumors are one thing. Almost every contributor on the team is hearing their name brought up in trade rumors, but to be seen as an option for a buyout is something that is on a different level. That would be an admission from the organization that it would be better to rid themselves of Howard to simply dump salary than it would to keep him around.

It would also mean that no other MLB franchise sees enough value in Howard, relative to his salary, to make a deal for him.

Howard is batting just .224 this season with 15 home runs and 60 RBI’s. At home this season he is batting just .188.

Ryne Sandberg penciled Darin Ruf in at first base for Wednesday night citing an obligation to try to win games. Fans have been wanting to see the young guys get an opportunity to play and Howard’s struggles could provide that opportunity for Ruf and potentially for Maikel Franco, one of the team’s highly regarded minor league prospects.

There was once a time when sitting Howard when he was ready to play was unheard of. Those days are over and it appears that even Howard sees the writing on the wall.

Howard spoke with reporters on Wednesday afternoon and he seems to have things in perspective.

“Yeah I get a lot of money to play. But it’s a game,” Howard told reporters. He referenced his wife, his son and his child on the way to put baseball in perspective as a mere game and not the end all be all for Howard.

That attitude is in no way wrong. In fact, it is the mindset that any husband and father should have. However, once those comments begin to be made, it typically symbolizes the end of a player’s productive career and the beginning of their focus on other things in life.

If Howard is not going to be in Sandberg’s lineup on a daily basis, that means he is a platoon player. $25 million platoon players don’t exist very often and for good reason. It is understandable to see why the rumors are swirling that Howard could be unceremoniously cut when this season is all said and done. Where there is smoke there is typically fire.

Buying out Howard at season’s end would be a tough way to see a former Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player leave the franchise. However, there may be no other option at this point.

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