The Braves have announced the signing of veteran slugger Jose Bautista to a minor-league deal. Per the organization, he’ll head to extended spring camp and will line up at third base. The deal would pay him at a $1MM rate in the majors, Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweets.
While Bautista has maintained he still hoped to play in the coming season after sitting out Spring Training, this news comes as a surprise. The Braves have long been expected to fill out their outfield with top prospect Ronald Acuna, which seemed to make them an unlikely destination for Bautista.
In a twist, though, Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos — who was with the Blue Jays when Bautista broke out and turned into a superstar — will give the veteran a chance to return to the hot corner at 37 years of age. Bautista certainly has spent plenty of time there, but the vast majority of his experience at third came in the distant past. Needless to say, this isn’t the third-base move that many anticipated at the start of the 2017-18 offseason.
Bautista will not only be looking to show he’s capable of returning to the infield after mostly plying his trade in the grass over the past nine seasons. He’ll also have to prove he can bounce back from a marked decline over the prior two campaigns.
Heading into the 2017 campaign, which Bautista spent with the Blue Jays after having to settle for a one-year deal in free agency, the hope was the his 2016 effort was just a blip. Bautista had experienced a big power drop, after all, but largely maintained his other-worldly plate discipline and still reached base at a healthy .366 clip.
But the most recent season did not go as hoped for the ever-confident veteran. Bautista hit 23 home runs but carried a miserable .203/.308/.366 slash in his 686 plate appearances. He also drew walks and went down on strikes at rates (12.2% and 24.8%, respectively) worse than he had since way back in 2008 — which is also the last time he spent the majority of his time at third.
It’s certainly an interesting gambit for the Braves, whose current plans at the hot corner involve riding out a Ryan Flaherty hot streak, mixing in Charlie Culberson, and waiting for Johan Camargo to return from the DL (while hoping he can repeat a surprisingly solid debut season). If Bautista can return to anything approaching the form he showed at the plate between 2010 and 2015, when he was one of the game’s very best hitters, he could boost a team that is playing solid baseball out of the gates but has cause to anticipate some regression from certain players.