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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.

Aaron Hicks to go on the disabled list with an oblique injury

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks left Sunday’s game against the Rangers after four innings due to soreness in his right oblique. After the game, Hicks said he expects to go on the 10-day disabled list and miss the next three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports.

Hicks was 1-for-2 with a single before departing on Sunday. He entered the game batting .288/.397/.515 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI in 198 plate appearances. It is by far the best season of his career.

Jacoby Ellsbury is on his way back from a concussion, so the Yankees will only have to bridge the gap in center field for a week or two. Mason Williams could draw some starts in center field in the meantime.

Report: Phillies making Maikel Franco available in trade discussions

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Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that the Phillies are making third baseman Maikel Franco “more than available” in trade discussions.

Franco, 24, is having an abysmal season after showing promise in 2015 and ’16. Through 289 plate appearances, he’s hitting .221/.280/.365 with nine home runs and 37 RBI. His hitting has tanked and his already below-average defense hasn’t shown any improvement.

It’s a bit surprising that the Phillies would be so eager to move Franco with his value about as low as it can go. Franco is also under control of the rebuilding Phillies through the 2021 season, so the team doesn’t have to rush into moving him. He will become eligible for arbitration for the first time after the season.

Furthermore, the Phillies don’t have an immediate replacement for Franco at third base. Andres Blanco would likely get everyday starts at the hot corner in the short-term, but as far as prospects go, there are no third baseman banging down the door. If the Phillies were to trade Franco, it would likely have to be in return for a young, talented third baseman who will be under team control for several more years.