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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.

Madison Bumgarner apparently hunts bears, too

Madison Bumgarner
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We welcomed “Mason Saunders” into our lives on Sunday, thanks to The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly and Zach Buchanan. Mason Saunders is the alias of Diamondbacks starter Madison Bumgarner when he competes in rodeos, something he’s done as recently as December (when he was still a free agent).

Given that one of Bumgarner’s other extracurricular activities, riding dirt bikes, resulted in a serious injury, many have been wondering how the Diamondbacks would react to the news that the lefty they inked to a five-year contract two months ago is roping steers in his spare time. It seems like the Diamondbacks just accept that that’s who Bumgarner is.

On Tuesday, Baggarly and Buchanan answered some frequently asked questions about the whole Bumgarner-rodeo thing. They mentioned that former Giants manager Bruce Bochy, in a radio interview on KNBR, slipped in that Bumgarner also hunts bears in his off-time. Bochy said, “You think, ‘Madison, you’re looking at signing your biggest contract ever to set yourself up for life and you’re going to risk it on the rodeo?’ But he’s got confidence. I mean there’s some stories I do know that he probably wouldn’t want me to share, with him bear hunting, and the tight situations he’s gotten himself into.”

As Baggarly and Buchanan explained, when Bumgarner — I mean, Saunders — is roping steers, he’s not taking much of a risk. They wrote, “The header and heeler don’t chase the steer around the ring. Each trial is more or less a one-shot deal and it’s over in less than 10 seconds. If the header or heeler misses on the first attempt, then no time is recorded.” Bumgarner has also said he ropes with his non-pitching hand. Hunting bears is an entirely different level of risk, one would imagine. That being said, no one seemed to be surprised that Bumgarner moonlights as a serious rodeo competitor. That’s likely also the case that he, as Bochy puts it, goes “mano a mano” against bears.