Howard signs Minor League deal with Braves

Howard signs Minor League deal with Braves

CINCINNATI -- Ryan Howard could be playing first base this season at Citizens Bank Park.

MLB.com reported Thursday afternoon that Howard signed a Minor League contract with the Braves. He will report to extended Spring Training and likely join Triple-A Gwinnett once he is ready to play. Howard could be an insurance policy if something happens to Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. He also could be Atlanta's designated hitter when it plays Interleague series on the road.

The Phillies host the Braves from April 21-23, July 28-31 and Aug. 28-30. They travel to Atlanta for June 5-8, Aug. 8-9 and Sept. 22-24.

If Howard joins the Braves at some point, it certainly would be of interest to Phillies fans. Surely the greatest first baseman in franchise history, Howard won the 2005 National League Rookie of the Year and '06 NL Most Valuable Player Awards and made three NL All-Star teams. He also helped the Phillies win the '08 World Series, the '09 NL pennant and five consecutive NL East titles from 2007-11.

Howard -- a career .258/.343/.515 hitter with 382 homers and 1194 RBIs -- ended his 13-year career in Philadelphia last season, when he hit .196 with 25 home runs, 59 RBIs and a .710 OPS in 362 plate appearances. 

The Phillies had a $23 million club option for 2017, but they paid Howard a $10 million buyout instead.

A few people who saw Howard this offseason said he was in tremendous shape, but yet he never signed. Some speculated that Howard had no interest in signing a Minor League deal, compared to a guaranteed Major League contract.

Thursday's news shows that Howard still wants to play.

Howard bristled at talk last season that he might not play in 2017; he still thinks he can contribute. His average exit velocity on balls in play last season was a team-best 92.5 mph, according to Statcast™. Of course, Howard also struck out 114 times in 331 at-bats.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.