Former Blue Jays star Bautista joins Braves on minor league deal

Jose Bautista is no longer unemployed. The former Toronto Blue Jays star was signed by his old boss, Alex Anthopoulos - now general manager of the Atlanta Braves - to a minor league contract that will pay him $1 million if he is added to the big-league roster. The deal is a far cry from the $150 million Bautista wanted in 2016, or the $18 million he earned last year while hitting .203, and instead of right field, the Braves are asking him to play third base.

Bautista, who will work himself into game shape at the Braves’ spring training complex in Florida, played third base early in his professional career, when he was considered a replacement-level player without much upside. Few could see the potential Bautista offered at the plate, and he never made much of an impact until he joined the Blue Jays and moved to the outfield. While Bautista eventually became one of the most feared sluggers in baseball, his late-bloomer status meant a sharp decline was always likely, and it would be unreasonable to expect him to return to form at 37.

The Blue Jays and Bautista parted ways following the 2017 season, leaving Bautista to join the free agent pool in an offseason remarkable for how little spending there was, with power hitting being especially undervalued. No teams came calling for spring training, and Bautista’s outlook for continuing his career seemed bleak when he was still a free agent on opening weekend. His former teammate Edwin Encarnacion expressed frustration over Bautista’s continued unemployment last week, telling Sportsnet: "The player he is, he doesn’t deserve that. It surprises me that he doesn’t have a job yet."

By signing with the Braves at third base, Bautista has a better chance of making it back to the majors than if he was competing in Atlanta’s crowded outfield. The Braves have been starting Ryan Flaherty at third with Johan Camargo injured, and Flaherty is batting far above his career average of .222 to start the season. Once Flaherty cools off and Camargo resumes his role as the team’s starting third baseman, it will be up to Bautista to show he is a more capable backup at third than Flaherty, who has never hit more than 10 home runs in a season.