Braves sign Jose Bautista to minor-league contract
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves added to their 2018 third-base options by signing a player with 331 career home runs.
Jose Bautista, baseball's home-run king from 2010 to 2016, joined the organization on a one-year, minor-league contract looking to rejuvenate his major-league career at third base, the team announced on Wednesday afternoon. Bautista, who was a 37-year-old free agent following his disappointing 2017 season, reported to Atlanta's extended spring training facility in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The signing rekindles a preexisting relationship between the longtime Toronto Blue Jays star and Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who rose to the GM chair in Toronto during Bautista's heyday. Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer also worked with Bautista during the 2014 season, a year in which he hit 35 home runs with a .403 on-base percentage.
"He didn't have the year he was capable of last year," Anthopoulos said. "I know there's certain things you know you're going to get with Jose: He's going to be in tremendous shape, he's gonna work hard, study hard, and he comes to win and he plays to win. So we're going to take a look."
" ... In terms of the performance, I learned long ago that you don't bet against this guy. Very proud. Very determined. He's someone that I've always said I thought would play into his 40s."
Bautista turned down a more lucrative offer with another organization in order to join the Braves.
"He had an opportunity to go somewhere else. It would've been a higher base salary. It would've been incentives that would've taken him significantly north of where he is with us," Anthopoulos said. "I think to Jose's credit, in the conversation I had with him, it's not about the money for him. It's about what he felt the best fit was for him, the best opportunity for him was."
Bautista will need to prove at least two things before breaking into the Braves' lineup.
First, he needs to show his 2017 offensive performance sitting 20 percent below league average was an anomaly for a player who has proven himself to be an difference-maker at the plate. From 2009 to 2016, only Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto posted a higher weighted runs created plus among qualified batters.
"If he can return to form it would be a huge add for us," said Anthopoulos, who mentioned the two sides resumed discussions this past weekend after preliminary discussions during the winter. "I know that's what he wants. That's certainly what we hope for.
The second question revolves around his defensive positioning: Bautista has logged just 63 innings at third base over the past six seasons, including 38 frames in 2017. At the major-league level, he's played more than 3,000 innings at the hot corner with the Blue Jays and Pirates and logged minus-23 defensive runs saved. Can he play significant innings there at 37 years old?
If Bautista is able to reestablish himself as a major-league option in Atlanta's farm system, he could provide a right-handed power bat for manager Brian Snitker to utilize this summer.
"He does have a baseball card," Snitker said. "... I talked to the guys down there (in Florida) today and they said the guy's in phenomenal shape and went through big workout. I'm sure he's going to be excited about getting back and playing. He's a good player.
"He's gonna definitely lengthen — if and when he gets here — lengthen our lineup because he's somebody that the opposition has to be aware of because he's that kind of player."
The Braves have leaned on utility options Ryan Flaherty and Charlie Culberson at third base this season while presumed starter Johan Camargo rehabs from a spring training setback. Flaherty, holding onto a lifetime .286 weighted on-base average, has surprisingly been one of the most productive third basemen in baseball this season.