The Braves have agreed to a minor-league deal with veteran slugger Ryan Howard, according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman (Twitter link). He’ll head to extended Spring Training before taking a minor-league assignment. Howard will earn at a palatable $750K annual rate if he makes it to the majors, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweets.
Howard, 37, had a quiet offseason after the Phillies paid him a $10MM buyout rather than picking up their club option following the 2016 campaign. But he’s now headed to a division rival after wrapping up a 13-year run in Philly.
Whether Howard will ever see the majors with Atlanta remains to be seen, of course. He’s not exactly a clear fit for a National League roster that features Freddie Freeman at first base. Perhaps, though, he’ll function as an insurance policy while burnishing his resume should another opportunity arise. It’s also possible that Howard could ultimately take a spot as a bench bat for the Braves.
The market was not kind to lumbering power hitters this winter. With younger, somewhat more defensively capable players signing for far less than expected or even taking minors deals, Howard faced an uphill path to earning a MLB job. Veteran DH Billy Butler has still yet to sign.
Howard certainly still has some pop left in his bat. Last year, he swatted 25 long balls in just 362 plate appearances. He also struck out 31.5% of the time and slashed just .196/.257/.453, though that was driven in part by a meager .205 batting average on balls in play.
That said, Howard did make hard contact 45.9% of the time he did put bat to ball, a level he hadn’t reached since way back in 2009 — his last season as a high-quality regular. Being limited almost exclusively to facing right-handed pitching probably influenced that figure, though. Howard has long been much more successful when hitting with the platoon advantage, with more than .200 OPS points separating his career splits, and it’s hard to imagine him squaring up against southpaws much at all from this point onward.