Atlanta Braves Sign Ryan Howard to Minor League Deal

In their pursuit of a left-handed bat off the bench, the Atlanta Braves took a flyer on former MVP Ryan Howard. The former Philadelphia Phillies great signed a minor league deal Thursday.

The Atlanta Braves front office, one of the busiest in baseball, is at it just five days into the 2017 season.

Ryan Howard, of course, is the one-time beast that patrolled the heart of the Philadelphia Phillies lineup. When Howard joined he big league club, the Phillies quickly became perennial National League favorites.

He won Rookie of the Year in his first full season in 2005, hitting .288 with 22 home runs in just 88 games. The following season he was the National League MVP. He led the league in both home runs and RBI, which would become his calling card. He became the fastest player to reach 200 home runs in the history of the game, in just 2,405 at-bats over his first 658 games played.

From 2006 to 2009 the masher hit 45 or more home runs each season, while driving in no less than 136. He signed a monster five-year, $125-million extension before the 2009 season. Howard piled up two more 30-plus home run, 100-plus RBI campaigns.

At the conclusion of the 2011 season, Howard tore his Achilles running to first on the final out of the Phillies’ loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series.

Howard would never be the same.

His power numbers disappeared and so did his health. Howard played more than 130 games in a season just once in the five years since he tore his ACL. He always had a penchant for big strikeout numbers, but that was once masked by his monstrous run-producing ability. They became more of a detriment in his later years.

The Phillies and Howard, their 37-year-old fallen superstar, parted ways at the conclusion of 2016. He hit the free agency market, making little noise until Thursday afternoon.

It is another brilliant move by the Atlanta Braves brass. Bringing in Howard on a minor league deal is a low-risk, high-reward play. Heyman later reported he will only earn $750,00 should he make the club. He will likely head to extended spring training and then to Triple-A Gwinnett to show the Braves he is in game form.

Howard is clearly not in Atlanta to supplant Freddie Freeman at first base. He does provide the Braves with the left-handed power bat off the bench – and a big DH for interleague play – they so desperately need. They have only four left-handed bats on the roster now (with switch-hitting Emilio Bonifacio being a fifth at times) and aside from Freeman, none can be considered a power bat. Despite all of Howard’s struggle the past five seasons, he did hit 71 home runs over the past three years.

The veteran lefty may never see the light of day in the big leagues for Atlanta. But if he shows he is game-ready, his power could be the jolt off the bench this Braves squad has long been looking for at an affordable price.