The Atlanta Braves are a few years away from contending. They have a few solid, young players in the majors, but their hopes for the future lie with their excellent collection of farmhands. Right now, however, the Braves are relying on solid and experienced veterans to help out the youngsters already in the majors. On Thursday, with that idea in mind, the Braves added first baseman Ryan Howard on a minor league deal. He will serve as depth behind Freddie Freeman.
The Braves have signed Ryan Howard to a Minor League deal. He’ll go to extended Spring Training and then likely join Triple-A Gwinnett
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) April 6, 2017
Braves Sign Ryan Howard to Minor League Contract
The 27-year-old Freeman is one of the top your players in baseball, not just at his position. Last year, he clubbed a career-high 34 home runs, and logged a .302 average. Freeman is at the center of Atlanta’s rebuild, and should be at the center of the finished project.
However, it’s never a good idea to be without a backup plan. Injury can strike any player at any time, entirely without warning. Until today, the Braves didn’t really have a backup plan for Freeman. The addition of Howard fixes that.
Howard, 37, has been with the Philadelphia Phillies organization for his entire career, up to this point. He first came up in 2004, and played his rookie season in 2005. He won National League Rookie of the Year, and followed that campaign up by winning NL MVP in 2006. That season, he was also named an All-Star for the first time and won a Silver Slugger. From 2007-2009, he finished in the top five of the MVP voting, and came in second in 2008. He was an All-Star again in 2009 and 2010, and finished tenth in the MVP vote in 2010 and 2011.
In his 2006 MVP season, Howard led the league with 58 home runs and 149 RBI, while also finishing with a .313 batting average and a 1.084 OPS. He finished with the most home runs in a season once more, and finished with the most RBI two more times.
However, the best days of the slugger’s illustrious career are well behind him. In four of the past five seasons, he recorded batting averages below .230. In 2016, he hit just .196. However, Howard can still play the field, and he can still hit for some power. He hit 23 or more home runs in each of the past three seasons, and drove in 95 runs as recently as 2014. He could DH in American League parks. Ultimately, as far as veteran backups at first go, the Braves could have done much worse than Howard.