ATLANTA — Even with their Ryan Flaherty leading the NL in hitting, the Atlanta Braves couldn’t resist the low-risk opportunity to add Jose Bautista.
The six-time all-star agreed to a minor league contract with the Braves on Wednesday after impressing team officials at a workout, and he will try to earn playing time at third base.
Bautista, 37, would receive a US$1 million, one-year deal if added to the 40-man major league roster. He will report to the Braves extended spring training complex in Kissimmee, Fla., to work himself into game condition while playing third base.
"He’s a good player who if and when he gets here can lengthen our lineup," Braves manager Brian Snitker said of the former Toronto Blue Jays favourite. "He’s somebody the opposition has got to be aware of because he’s that kind of player."
Bautista played nine full seasons for the Blue Jays and is one of the most popular players in franchise history. He had 288 home runs and 766 runs batted in over 1,235 regular-season appearances with Toronto while being named an American League all-star six times and a silver slugger twice.
He added six homers and 16 RBIs in 20 playoff games as he helped the Blue Jays make back-to-back American League Championship Series appearances in 2015 and 2016.
His most iconic homer came during the 2015 AL Division Series against the Texas Rangers, a three-run tiebreaking shot followed by a dramatic bat flip in Game 5 that helped Toronto advance to the ALCS.
Flaherty took a NL-leading .354 batting average into Wednesday night’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies, but his career average is .221.
The team added another option at third base on Wednesday when Johan Camargo was activated from the disabled list. Camargo was expected to be the starter before suffering a right oblique injury.
Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who was the GM in Toronto during much of Bautista’s run with the Blue Jays, said he had talks with the slugger in the off-season that never gained momentum.
"I just think where we were going to be financially just wasn’t going to make sense for him at the time," Anthopoulos said.
Even so, Anthopoulos remained interested and said Bautista liked what he had seen of the Braves this season. Anthopoulos said Bautista turned down more money from another team to sign with the Braves. Bautista has not seen much time at third base since 2011.
"A guy chooses to come to here rather than somewhere else, it’s a good thing," he said. "He leaves money on the table, it’s a good thing. It’s flattering."
Anthopoulos said Bautista has been hitting and taking ground balls. Still there is no timetable for when Bautista can be expected to be ready to play in the minor leagues or Atlanta.
Bautista earned $18 million under a one-year deal with Toronto last season but put up subpar numbers for the second straight year, hitting .203 with 23 homers and 65 RBIs in 157 games. He batted .240 with 40 homers, 114 RBIs and 110 walks in 2015, then dropped to .234 with 22 homers and 69 RBIs in 116 games the following year.
Bautista became a free agent and was among several prominent players who remained unsigned over the winter.
He has hit at least 22 homers the last eight seasons, including a career-best 54 for the Blue Jays in 2010. He has four seasons with at least 100 RBIs.
Snitker was excited about the scouting report from Wednesday’s workout.
"I’ve talked to the guys down there today who said the guy is in phenomenal shape," Snitker said. "A big workout. I’m sure he’s going to be excited about getting back and playing."