This is fascinating. The Atlanta Braves have signed Jose Bautista, one of the best power hitters of the past decade, to a minor-league contract. But that’s not the fascinating part. This is.
Per the Braves’ release: “He has reported to Atlanta’s extended spring training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. He will play third base.”
Bautista, known as Joey Bats, is 37. He has played 394 MLB games at third base. Only 12 of those have come since 2011, and half were late-game deployments.
He mostly has been a right fielder, and he hasn’t aged well. He had a Baseball-Reference WAR of minus-1.7 last season. By way of comparison, Matt Kemp had a minus-1.3. Going by WAR, the only big-league position player worse than Bautista in 2017 was Albert Pujols.
Which is why Joey Bats was available. This being a minor-league contract, there’s not much risk. So long as Bautista stays at third base, there’s no chance of him cluttering an outfield that’s still without Ronald Acuna Jr. There is a chance, I guess, of him blocking Johan Camargo at third base, though the Braves seem to view Camargo as more a utility infielder than a starter.
We know third base has been an empty chair for the Braves since Chipper Jones rode into the sunset. Heck, even Freddie Freeman took a turn last year. But I’d have run through a hundred names as hot-corner candidates before I’d have hit on Bautista. This is, you’d have to say, thinking outside the ol’ box.
Here we cite the obvious: Alex Anthopoulos knows Joey Bats well. He was Toronto’s general manager. Bautista spent a decade there, hitting 288 homers, authoring one classic – or classless, depending on your view – playoff bat flip and getting slugged by the Rangers’ Roughned Odor the next year in delayed retaliation.
There’s a part of me that finds this intriguing. There’s also a part that figures it won’t amount to much. Remember when Ryan Howard was a Braves’ minor-leaguer? No? There’s a reason. It didn’t last long.