Braves end Jose Bautista experiment following veteran’s lackluster performance

The Atlanta Braves took a no-risk flyer by signing veteran slugger Jose Bautista back in mid-April, and following 12 major-league games the organization elected to turn the page at third base. The team released Bautista on Sunday morning, general manager Alex Anthopoulos announced.

“We took a shot,” Anthopoulos said of Bautista’s signing. “Certainly (there) was a lot of upside for us if it clicked. … We certainly didn’t feel like there was any downside.”

Bautista, who transitioned back to third base to make the Braves roster, did not provide MLB-quality production during his time in Atlanta.

The 37-year-old slashed just .143/.250/.343 with two home runs and never seemed to regain his timing at the plate. With his glove being, at best, a downgrade from Atlanta’s other third-base options, the team decided to clear the roster spot rather than continue to force-feed plate appearances to a former star in decline. Bautista’s $1 million contract provided flexibility for the front office.

The Braves will now turn to Johan Camargo, the 24-year-old switch-hitter who was expected to be the team’s everyday third baseman before a preseason oblique injury, the emergence of Ryan Flaherty and the signing of Bautista delayed his rise.

“When we signed him, Camargo was still — even when he was on rehab — didn’t really get going for a while,” Anthopoulos said. “(Flaherty) did a great job for us early on, scuffled a little bit at the end then had a good game or two in New York, but prior to that started to come down.

” … It worked out, especially it coincided with Dansby going down. Camargo got everyday at-bats at shortstop. Again, the results weren’t there.”

Anthopoulos went on to note the team’s predominance of left-handed hitters and the possibility that Bautista’s right-handed bat could have balanced out the lineup if he could rebound to pre-2017 production. Simply put, that never happened.

Serving as the team’s starting shortstop before Swanson returned from a wrist injury on Saturday night, Camargo hit 59 percent below league average in 52 plate appearances but seemed to get back on track with a two-hit night in his first start at third this month.

Though hits have been rare this season, Camargo is exhibiting far more plate discipline (17.1 percent walk rate) in his second MLB season and his .368 on-base percentage still pushes his overall production to well above the major-league average for position players. Per Statcast, Camargo’s expected weighted on-base average — a metric which factors in quality of contact, walks and strikeouts — places fifth on the team behind Freddie Freeman, Tyler Flowers, Nick Markakis and Ronald Acuña Jr.

Among those with at least 300 plate appearances since the start of the 2017 season, Camargo is one of 29 players age 24 or younger hitting above league average, ranking right behind Nationals standout Trea Turner in terms of offensive production.

Add in the fact that his glove and arm provide a major defensive upgrade — a focus for Anthopoulos throughout the offseason — and Camargo should be a more consistent presence for Atlanta.

The Braves can also turn to Flaherty and Charlie Culberson for third-base help if needed and power-hitting prospect Austin Riley is right down the road at Triple-A Gwinnett. Anthopoulos clarified that Bautista’s release does not alter Riley’s timeline.

Bautista was worth the low-cost flyer, but for a first-place team with better options it was time for the experiment to end.