Howard behind Thome; club won't give him away

One of the most-asked questions in spring training was: Why won't the Phillies trade Ryan Howard, their best power-hitting prospect since Mike Schmidt?

It turns out that one of the people asking that question was Howard himself.

Howard's agent, Larry Reynolds, told ESPN.com that he'd faxed a letter to the Phillies on Friday, formally requesting a trade.

"We can't demand a trade," Reynolds said. "All we're doing is requesting one. But we figured that if we put it in ink, they would understand we're not just talking."

Howard, 25, is coming off a 48-homer season and opened a lot of eyes this spring by hitting .315 with three homers.

But the Phillies have concluded he can't play anywhere but first base. And he's still blocked by Jim Thome for the next four years.

"We don't know what we're supposed to do," Reynolds said. "We think he's ready for the big leagues. He just wants an opportunity."

One scout appraised Howard's readiness for the big leagues this way: "He's got holes, no doubt about that. But he's going to run into 25-30 homers by accident. And the good thing is, he uses the other side of the field."

There are a number of teams that would love to give him a shot, too. And some of them are asking how Howard could possibly have more trade value than he has right now.

"Believe me," Phillies general manager Ed Wade told ESPN.com earlier in the week, "we've talked about all of that. But we still feel as if Ryan has significant value for us. Despite the fact he's coming off a tremendous season, he still has two options left. So we just feel the appropriate thing is to let him continue to develop and see what happens."

With the Phillies fishing for bullpen pieces, it's believed the Devil Rays were ready to dangle Danys Baez, and the Pirates were willing to talk about their glut of arms. But, Wade said, "We've never had a conversation with one team where names were involved. They were all just expressions of interest."

Nevertheless, teams that have inquired about Howard believe the Phillies will use him and Placido Polanco as their biggest chips before the trading deadline -- where Wade will be under massive pressure to make a major deal.

Senior writer Jayson Stark covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com.