By Mary Cunningham

Phillies fans all over the region were wondering last season, as the team sank deeper and deeper in the standings, why Ryan Howard was still playing first base and Darin Ruf was getting no playing time.

Howard was striking out more than ever, leaving men on base at a record rate and was clearly over the hill, especially when you considered his $25 million annual salary.

Ruf, who was really rough in the outfield, therefore could only logically play first base. Anything to get his big right-handed bat into the lineup!

Now, Tod Zolecki of MLB.com has addressed the issue — since the Phillies won’t honestly, and here it is:

When GM Ruben Amaro Jr. torpedoed Ryne Sandberg’s desire to play Darin Ruf more at first base in the second half of 2014, Amaro did it because he was trying to drive up Howard’s value. Even if there was only a 10-percent chance they could trade Howard in the offseason, it would drop to zero if Howard rode the bench.

So they hoped Howard would play, get hot, finish the season with 100 RBIs and look good enough in the offseason to a team needing a first baseman/designated hitter. The Phillies are willing to eat a large chunk of the $60 million owed to Howard, but if they cannot find a match, they’re prepared to finally give others a shot.

That could mean a true platoon at first base with Howard and Ruf, or just less playing time for Howard.