Ryan Howard simply couldn't stay away from the game he loved. It seemed like the first baseman would be done with baseball after languishing in free agency from the end of the 2016 season to the start of the 2017 season. He didn't officially retire, though, despite his precipitous decline towards the end of his tenure with the only team he had ever known in the major leagues. Now, he is getting another chance, albeit in the minor leagues, with the Atlanta Braves.

Minor league deal

The minor league deal won't guarantee a return to the majors for Howard.

Instead, he'll head to extended spring training before he likely joins the Triple-A team in Gwinnett. Terms of the deal weren't immediately clear, but they likely don't matter to the slugger. The Braves are providing him with something much greater: the chance to extend a career that appeared to be dead in the water.

It's unclear how he would fit in with the major league team, though. Barring an unforeseen injury, there is no chance he would become a starter with the Braves, since they have franchise star Freedie Freeman entrenched at first base. It's possible he could find a place on the bench, where utility man Chase d'Arnaud is currently backing up several positions on the depth chart, including first base.

Regardless of fit, the Howard signing continues a trend the team began in free agency to bring in players seemingly past their prime, including starting pitchers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey.

A rival legend

Fans of the Philadelphia Phillies may find it hard to fathom that Howard could don an Atlanta Braves uniform one day. After all, the only team the slugger has played for in his entire career is their NL East rival.

He came up to the majors in 2004, winning National League Rookie of the Year in 2005 and National League MVP in 2006. The three-time All-Star has led the league in home runs twice and was part of a World Series championship with the Phillies in 2008.

His decline has been a precipitous one, though. He hit just .196 with 25 home runs, and 59 RBIs during his last season in Philadelphia while losing ground to Darin Ruf, forcing the team's hand into declining his option and setting him off to free agency for the first time.

He was also involved in steroid use allegations by Al Jazeera, although those have proven to be unfounded. Many don't think he has anything left in the tank; Howard is ready to prove otherwise with the Braves.