At the end of last season the Phillies and Ryan Howard had an emotional, but somewhat awkward parting, as the Phillies honored Howard for everything he had done for the team over the previous 11+ seasons, including helping to bring the Phillies their first World Championship in 28 years (and second in 134 years, to that point). It was, however, slightly odd in that the parting ceremony was something one might expect to see for a player retiring, except Howard wasn’t planning on retiring.
Despite Howard’s complete inability to hit left-handed pitching any longer (2015: .130/.178/.240 against southpaws; 2016: .121/.143/.212), he still thought he had the skills to contribute to a major league club, and set out to continue his career outside of Philadelphia, and the Phillies were happy to buy out his contract for $10,000,000 to let him do so.
At 37, however, Howard found few takers on the open market, until today. The Braves, who Howard had some success against, signed Howard to a minor-league deal that would allow Howard to earn up to $750,000 at the major league level. He will report to extended spring training next week, and make his way to Gwinnett some time after that. (Calendar dates to watch: July 17th and July 24th the Gwinnett Braves take on the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs in Allentown, for those interested).
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
At his age, and with his well documented flaws, it’s hard to see Howard getting much playing time at the major league level, especially so on a team that sends Freddy Freeman to the cold corner on a nightly basis, but it’s possible he’d be called up as a left-handed DH in interleague games, or in the event of injury. Howard did show, particularly in the second half of last season, that he can still hit right handed pitching. Only 4 first-basemen in baseball had a better second-half wRC+ than Howard, being used in a strict platoon, did.
More realistically, though, this is simply the sad end to the career of one of the better power hitters of the last 15 years. Though not everyone can go out like John Elway, Jerome Bettis, or...uh...David Ross (?), it’s still somewhat disheartening to see Ryan Howard toiling away on the backfields and AAA complexes of the National League as his career draws to a close.