The Atlanta Braves signed former Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard to a minor league deal on Thursday.

Ryan Howard spent all of the Winter and all of Spring Training looking for work. Finally, with the season just a few days old, the phone rang and suddenly, Howard will have a chance to return to the NL East.

As Jayson Stark pointed out, the Atlanta Braves may be one of the least likeliest places for Ryan Howard to wind up. After all, it's a National League team - no DH - that has a pretty good left-handed hitting first baseman in Freddie Freeman. But Howard signed a minor league deal with the Braves Thursday in a quest to return to the major leagues as a left-handed bat off the bench.

If Howard does make it back to the majors, he'll be used as a pinch-hitter and a designated hitter with the Braves play interleague games in American League parks. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Howard will make a prorated portion of $750,000 for any time that he spends on the Braves 25-man roster, but there is no guarantee that he will be called up by Atlanta.

The 37-year old Howard saw the Phillies decline to pick up the option year on his contract and became a free agent at the end of last season. He went unsigned until Thursday. Since he didn't have any time in Spring Training, Howard will report to the Braves extended camp and workout there until he's ready to be assigned to the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves. There is no timetable for Howard to join the G-Braves. The Gwinnett Braves come to Coca-Cola Park to play the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in late July, but there's no telling whether Howard will be with the team when that trip comes up on the schedule.

Atlanta needs some power to bring off the bench and they're hoping that Howard could provide that, and also provide some leadership as a role model for the Braves young players. 

Ironically, Howard killed the Braves pitching when he was in his prime. During his career, Howard has 52 home runs and 155 RBI against the Braves, with a slash line of .280/.362/.573 in 183 games against Atlanta. In his career, Howard has 382 home runs, 1194 RBI and a slash line of .258/.343/.515 over 13 seasons, all with the Phillies. The Phillies drafted Howard in the fifth round of the 2001 Draft and he was named the NL Rookie of the Year in 2005 and the NL Most Valuable Player in 2006, in addition to playing in three All-Star Games and helping lead the Phillies to a World Championship in 2008.

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