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The Braves sign Ryan Howard to a minor league deal

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It was somewhat surprising that Ryan Howard didn’t get a minor league deal from someone this spring. If, for no other reason, than to see what he could do in games that don’t count.

It’s even more surprising that, now that he has a minor league deal in hand, it’s from a club that doesn’t really have a place for him at all: the Atlanta Braves, who SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reports penned the former MVP to a deal today.

To the extent Howard has any value whatsoever, it’s for his bat and the Braves don’t get to use the DH except for interleague games. The only position Howard can play defensively — and he does not play it well — is first base, which is the position of the Braves best player, Freddie Freeman.

Still, this costs virtually nothing and it gives Howard a place to get some hacks in down on the farm. The Braves have a lot of time to figure out what, if anything, to do with him in the meantime.

Howard hit .196/.257/.453 last season. He did hit 25 homers, but that remains a pretty empty batting line otherwise. Even emptier when you realize that almost all of that damage came against righties, against whom he had a .269 OBP, meaning that he’s not even a platoon threat. He’s merely a guy who can hit one a long way once in a while if a righty makes a mistake.

Still: Howard seems like a good guy, and no one wants see a once-great player end their career in ignominy. Here’s wishing the best for him.

Major League Baseball orders balls stored in climate controlled rooms for some reason

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Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated reports that Major League Baseball will mandate that teams store baseballs in “an air-conditioned and enclosed room[s]” this season. He adds that the league will install climate sensors in each room to measure temperature and humidity during the 2018 season, with such data being used to determine if humidors — like the ones being used in Colorado and Arizona — are necessary for 2019.

This move comes a year after Major League Baseball’s single season, league-wide home run record was shattered, with 6,105 dingers being hit. It also comes after a year in which two different studies — one by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman for The Ringer, and another by FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur — found evidence that baseballs were altered at some point around the middle of the 2015 season which coincided with home run numbers spiking in the middle of that year, quite suddenly.

Also coming last year: multiple player complaints about the baseball seeming different, with pitchers blaming a rash of blister problems stemming from what they believed to be lower seams on the baseballs currently in use than those in use in previous years. Players likewise complained about unusually smooth and/or juiced baseballs during the World Series, which some believe led to a spike of home runs in the Fall Classic.

To date, Major League Baseball has steadfastly denied that the balls are a problem, first issuing blatantly disingenuous denials,  and later using carefully chosen words to claim nothing was amiss. Specifically, Major League Baseball claimed that the balls were within league specifications but failed to acknowledge that league specifications are wide enough to encompass baseballs which could have radically different flight characteristics while still, technically, being within spec.

Based on Verducci’s report, it seems that MLB is at least past the denial stage and is attempting to understand and address the issues about which many players have complained and which have, without question, impacted offense in the game:

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that MLB commissioned a research project after last season to study the composition, storage and handling of the baseballs. He said that investigation is not yet completed. “I’m not at the point to jump that gun right now,” he said about the findings.

The investigation is not yet completed, but the fact that the league is now ordering changes in the manner in which balls are handled before use suggests to me that the league has learned that there is at least something amiss about the composition or manufacture of the baseballs.

Major League Baseball is a lot of things, but quick to impose costs and changes of process on its clubs like this is not one of them. There is likely a good reason for it.