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Ryan Howard's Philadelphia Phillies' career unofficially nears its end

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Ryan Howard is the second-greatest home run hitter in Philadelphia Phillies' history. He remains a fixture in what was the Phillies' second 'Golden Era' (2007-2011). But, signals were sent this week that could indicate his days with the organization may be numbered.

General manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. confirmed front office strategy through his weekly pregame radio address. Then, Ryne Sandberg subsequently sat Howard in favor of perennial prospect Darin Ruf against the San Francisco Giants in back-to-back games.

'Ryno' indicated that he wanted to see what 'Babe Ruf' (so dubbed by his Reading teammates because he broke Howard's Double-A franchise home run record with 38 bombs in 2012) would do with more major league at bats. That organizational decision opened the public watershed.

The 'Big Piece' was vital to the revitalization of a team that hadn't been good since 1993. A 2005 Rookie of the Year win followed by the National League's Most Valuable Player Award the next season established his vitality. Three seasons into his career, 266 games to be exact, Howard took 82 home runs, 217 RBI's, a .304 batting average and a 1.024 OPS from many major league pitcher's lives.

The 2006 season was the Missouri native's best season, as he sent 58 baseballs over numerous fences. Sabermetric fans also value the 5.2 WAR score he generated that year.

Mike Schmidt's 548 Hall of Fame home run line seemed eventually passable back then. Even closer still by the end of the 2009 season, when 222 blasts showed on the back of Howard's baseball card. However, after turning 30 in the off-season his next two combined seasons indicated that a decline was underway. But, at least he was still productive (64 homers, 224 RBI's, .847 OPS).

Howard's precipitous fall, since he tore his left Achilles tendon at the end of the 2011 National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, has been painfully clear. In a matter of seconds after his devastating injury, the soon-to-be World Series' champions won the Series. During the next few seasons the Phillies clear fall from playoff contention took place. Unless something miraculous happens, that specific moment will also be tagged as the beginning of the end of a once-great slugger's ability to shine.

There's no need to cite number 6's numbers during the past three seasons. While it could be honestly claimed that Howard was working toward recovery in 2012 and 2013, he's basically healthy this year. Yet, the power within his lower core barely exists, which has decimated the first baseman's entire game.

A trade seems unlikely, considering the $60 million that he's guaranteed from 2015-2017. If he's able to somehow hit more home runs when he plays the rest of the way, it's possible that he'll still be wearing red pinstripes next season. But, an outright release at any point from here on out is now on the table.

Howard's baseball career includes loud applause, deserved accolades, 326 home runs and one World Series win to-date. As of this week, it also undeniably moved toward its unwanted end.

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