The Braves signed Howard to a minor-league deal Thursday, Mark Bowman of reports. Howard will participate in extended spring training before reporting to Triple-A Gwinnett.

With Freddie Freeman locked in as a franchise player at first base, Howard didn't exactly join a spot that puts him on the fast track to the bigs. Still, Atlanta could have worse organizational depth pieces than someone who hit 23-plus home runs in the previous three seasons. The 2006 National League MVP must wait for an opportunity, though it may come as a bench bopper or as a designated hitter in interleague play at American League parks. The latter avenue could serve as a teaser before Atlanta uses him as trade bait for AL clubs later in the season.

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