NEW YORK — After learning Ryan Howard had agreed to a contract with Atlanta, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman texted the slugger an emoji of clapping hands.
“When he walks up to the plate, he can still change the game with one swing of the bat,” Freeman said Thursday when Howard’s minor league deal was announced.
If added to the 40-man roster, Howard would get a contract paying a $750,000 salary in the major leagues this year and $120,000 in the minors. He would have the chance to earn $750,000 in performance bonuses based on plate appearances: $150,000 each for 100, 175, 250, 325 and 400.
Howard, the 2006 NL MVP and a three-time All-Star first baseman, will report to extended spring training next week and join Triple-A Gwinnett when he’s ready.
“You can’t ever have enough players, because it takes a lot of guys to get through this long season,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Just from being across the diamond and seeing him at some events in the offseason, it seems like a great guy and a good teammate.”
Now 37, Howard hit .196 with 25 home runs and 59 RBIs in 112 games last year and became a free agent after Philadelphia declined a $23 million option and paid a $10 million buyout, completing a $125 million, five-year contract.
Howard’s bat revived in the second half of last season, when he hit .262 with 13 homers and 32 RBIs in 130 at-bats. He batted .235 in the first half with eight homers and 32 RBIs.
“There was no real risk on our end,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said underneath Citi Field before Thursday night’s game against the New York Mets. “He’s a great makeup guy. He’s good with young kids. If it works, it’s great. If it doesn’t, it’s not a big league contract.”
Drafted by the Phillies in 2001, Howard was among the game’s most feared power hitters and has 382 home runs. He has struggled since tearing his left Achilles tendon on the final at-bat of the Phillies Game 5 loss to St. Louis in the 2011 NL Division Series. He had just completed his sixth straight season of 100 or more RBIs; since then, he has topped 77 just once.
Howard hardly faced left-handed pitchers last year, going 4 for 33 (.121) against them with one homer and two RBIs.
During spring training, Coppolella had asked Freeman his thoughts about signing Howard. Freeman then spoke with Howard.
“Why not? It’s a left-handed bat that can do damage, and obviously we don’t want him doing it against us anymore. If he has something left, we’ll gladly take him,” Freeman said. “It’s a bat that we don’t have coming off the bench that can change the game.”