Braves re­lease for­mer MVP Ryan Howard from mi­nor league deal

Cape Breton Post - - Sports -

Ryan Howard doesn’t want to re­tire from base­ball.

He may not have a choice. The for­mer Na­tional League MVP was re­leased from his mi­nor league con­tract Mon­day by the Atlanta Braves af­ter he strug­gled at Triple-A Gwin­nett, a ma­jor blow to the 37-year-old slug­ger’s hopes of car­ry­ing on with an­other team af­ter a long ca­reer with the Philadel­phia Phillies.

Less than a week af­ter Howard in­sisted “there’s more in the tank,’’ the Braves de­cided other­wise. He lasted only 11 games with the G-Braves, hit­ting .184 with one homer and five RBIs.

The Braves were hop­ing Howard could bol­ster an ane­mic bench and serve as des­ig­nated hit­ter in in­ter­league games. But his op­tions were lim­ited, since he could only play first base and Atlanta al­ready has Fred­die Free­man.

Go­ing a dif­fer­ent direc­tion, the Braves com­pleted a deal with Min­nesota for util­ity player Danny San­tana. The Twins re­ceived left-handed re­liever Kevin Chap­man and cash.

Howard was once among base­ball’s most feared hit­ters. In 2006, his first full sea­son as Philadel­phia’s start­ing first base­man, he put to­gether one of the great­est stat lines in base­ball his­tory: 58 homers, 149 RBIs, a .313 av­er­age and an MVP award.

The Phillies would go on to win five straight NL East ti­tles, a stretch that in­cluded two

trips to the World Se­ries and a cham­pi­onship in 2008. Howard av­er­aged 41 homers and 129 RBIs dur­ing that run, fin­ish­ing in the top 10 of the MVP vot­ing ev­ery sea­son.

But his ca­reer was for­ever al­tered on the last play of the 2011 di­vi­sion se­ries against the St. Louis Cardinals, when he tore his Achilles ten­don run­ning out a grounder for the fi­nal out of a 1-0 loss.

He hasn’t been the same since.

Plagued by one in­jury af­ter an­other, Howard’s pro­duc­tion plum­meted the last five sea­sons. In 2016, he showed flashes of power with 25 homers but bat­ted a ca­reer­worst .196, prompt­ing the Phillies to de­cline a $25 mil­lion op­tion for this sea­son. He was hon­oured by the team be­fore its fi­nal home game but in­sisted that he had no plans to re­tire.

Howard made it clear last week that he still be­lieves he can con­trib­ute.

“If you walk away, don’t walk away with some­thing still left in the tank,’’ he said. “Then you’re won­der­ing like, ‘Man, what could I have done?’ When I’m done play­ing, I want to leave it all out on the field.’’

Howard was even will­ing to go to the mi­nors, tak­ing a frac­tion of the salary he once made and with no guar­an­tees that the Braves would bring him up to the ma­jors.

“Once you leave the mi­nor leagues, you want to not come back,’’ Howard said. “But it’s the path that I’m on, the jour­ney that I’m on.’’

That jour­ney may have ended, es­pe­cially since he missed all of spring train­ing be­fore the Braves fi­nally called. There’s clearly not a lot of in­ter­est in an ag­ing slug­ger with a cu­mu­la­tive .226 av­er­age over the last five years.

The Braves de­cided San­tana was a bet­ter op­tion for the bench. The 26-year-old has spent parts of four sea­sons in the big leagues, hit­ting .276 with 10 homers, 76 RBIs and 41 stolen bases. This sea­son with the Twins, he’s hit­ting .200 with one homer in 13 games.

Chap­man was claimed off waivers by the Braves late in spring train­ing af­ter spend­ing parts of the last four sea­sons with the Hous­ton Astros. Con­trol has al­ways been an issue for the lefty, who had a 7.71 ERA in nine games at Gwin­nett af­ter fail­ing to earn a spot on Atlanta’s big league ros­ter.

AP PHOTO

In this photo taken May 3, Gwin­nett Braves’ Ryan Howard is in­ter­viewed be­fore a mi­nor league base­ball game against the Durham Bulls in Gwin­nett, Ga. The Braves have re­leased the for­mer Na­tional League MVP from his mi­nor league con­tract af­ter he strug­gled at Triple-A Gwin­nett.

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