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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.

Brandon Crawford homers off brother-in-law Gerrit Cole

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You can’t pick your family and no one knows that better than Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. His sister Amy married Astros starter Gerrit Cole in November 2016, so the two players are brothers-in-law.

The two players have matched up against each other 18 times in the past, as Cole spent his first five seasons in the National League with the Pirates. Cole often won that battle, holding Crawford to four hits — all singles — in 18 plate appearances.

Crawford finally got the better of Cole on Tuesday night, hitting a line drive into the appropriately-named Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park for a two-run home run, cutting the Astros’ lead to 5-2.