The Braves have ended the Ryan Howard experiment even before it really began, releasing the former Phillies slugger from his minor league contract Monday after he failed to show enough at Triple-A Gwinnett to warrant a major league call-up.
Howard, 37, hit .184 with one homer, two walks and 11 strikeouts in 42 plate appearances over 11 games at Gwinnett.
The former National League MVP and two-time league home-run leader was slowed dramatically in recent years by injuries, most notably Achilles surgery, and hit only .196 but had 25 home runs in 362 plate appearances last season for the Phillies, who paid a whopping $10 million buyout on his contract option for 2017.
The Braves, desperate to add some power to their bench, took a no-risk gamble by signing the three-time former All-Star first baseman to a minor league deal on April 6, figuring he could be used a pinch-hitter and designated hitter in interleague play in American League parks if he had anything left in his bat.
But with a pair of two-game series against the Astros and Blue Jays on the front and back ends of a three-city trip that starts Tuesday in Houston, the Braves decided against adding Howard to the major league team.
“Given what Ryan has done and who he is as a player, when we made the decision to not select him for interleague play, we felt the right thing to do was give him his unconditional release,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said.. “We have nothing but good things to say about Ryan and wish him all the best going forward.”
He would’ve made a prorated portion of $750,000 for any time spent in the majors. Howard spent a couple of weeks in extended spring training with the Braves after going unsigned in the offseason and not having benefit of a regular spring training with any team.
Since being called up to Gwinnett, he’d shown no sign of being a player who might make an impact at the big-league level, and his trot around the bases was almost painful to watch, so slow and gimpy was Howard.
Howard hit .262 with 13 homers and a .932 OPS in 142 PAs after the 2016 All-Star break, used almost exclusively against right-handed pitchers in a bench role.
“If he can do what he did in the second half of the season, he will help our team,” Coppolella said upon announcing the signing a month ago, a move the Braves had initially considered during spring training.
Howard made $190 million in his career with the Phillies, including $25 million each of the past three seasons. He finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six consecutive seasons, winning the award in 2006 and finishing as MVP runner-up in 2008, the year he helped Philadelphia win the World Series.
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