Braves GM excited by potential of Jose Bautista signing

Jose Bautista  flies out in the first inning during against the Minnesota Twins at Rogers Centre Aug. 25, 2017, in Toronto.
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Jose Bautista flies out in the first inning during against the Minnesota Twins at Rogers Centre Aug. 25, 2017, in Toronto.

Credit: Tom Szczerbowski

Credit: Tom Szczerbowski

Alex Anthopoulos and Jose Bautista are reunited with the Braves, with the general manager taking a flier on one of his former All-Stars.

The Braves signed Bautista to a one-year minor-league deal Tuesday. He reported to extended spring training in Florida, and the team will determine which affiliate he’ll report to when he’s up to game speed.

Bautista was announced as a third baseman, a position he hasn’t manned regularly since 2008 and has played only 12 times since the start of the 2012 season.

Bautista, 37, played for the Blue Jays during Anthopoulos’ entire general manager tenure (2009-15). Toronto acquired Bautista when Anthopoulos was J.P. Ricciardi’s assistant GM. He made the American League All-Star team from 2010-15.

“Good opportunity for us,” Anthopoulos said. “A lot of upside, clearly. Seen him play a lot of third base in his career. We had an MVP candidate in (Josh) Donaldson there (at third in Toronto). Didn’t have the year he’s capable of last year, but 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 going to work hard, study hard, and he comes to win and he plays to win. So we’re going to take a look, see how he is.”

The parties had brief discussions in winter, but no agreement was ever close. Bautista reached out to Anthopoulos to touch base Friday, and conversations Saturday led the GM to believe a deal was realistic.

It’s the type of upside play that made sense given the Braves’ remaining spending room, Anthopoulos acknowledged. In taking a minor-league deal that will pay him $1 million if he reaches the majors, Bautista is taking a gamble.

“In taking this deal, he’s made the decision to bet on himself,” Anthopoulos said. “You don’t bet against this guy.”

Bautista declined a more lucrative offer elsewhere to sign with the Braves, as first reported by FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. Anthopoulos confirmed, saying he felt there was a comfort aspect that appealed to Bautista.

“I think he had an opportunity to go somewhere else,” he said. “Would’ve been higher base salary. Would’ve been incentives that would’ve taken him significantly north of where he is with us. I think to Jose’s credit, it’s not about the money for him, but about the best fit for him, what the best opportunity for him was.”

Aside from familiarity with Anthopoulos, Bautista worked with Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer with the Blue Jays in 2014. Third-base coach Ron Washington competed against Bautista when managing the Rangers while both teams were contenders. They faced off in the 2015 ALDS.

“Those who’d worked with him were emphatic they wanted to move forward with him,” Anthopoulos said.

Anthopoulos has always felt Bautista could play into his 40s, largely because of an “elite” work ethic and dedication to his body. He’s been fond of Bautista’s third-base skill set going back to their Toronto days, but with Donaldson at the hot corner, there was no need to play Bautista there extensively.

If he makes the majors, he would be available as a first baseman and outfielder. Manager Brian Snitker will have the freedom to move him around.

“I talked to the guys down there today, and they said he’s in phenomenal shape,” said Snitker, who remembers Bautista as a third baseman with the Pirates when he was coaching third himself. “Big workout. I’m sure he’s going to be excited about being back and playing. He’s a good player. He’s definitely, if and when he gets here, going to lengthen our lineup because he’s somebody that the opposition’s going to be aware of. He’s that kind of player.”

Bautista has taken accountability for his poor 2017 season, according to Anthopoulos, when he slashed .203/.308/.366 with 23 homers and 65 RBIs. The down season hurt his case finding a job in what became a difficult free-agent market for players over the winter.

It was Bautista’s eighth consecutive season with 20 or more home runs. If he can at least provide similar production, it would be a welcome addition to a lineup lacking right-handed pop.

Bautista’s gaudy personality has long garnered mixed reviews from players and fans. While he’s rubbed some the wrong way, Anthopoulos maintains Bautista is a positive clubhouse presence, especially for younger players.

“What you see on the field is different from what you see in the clubhouse,” he said. “There’s been a lot of commentary, he can be a little fiery, demonstrative, things like that. But he’s a class-act individual. Cares, works hard, very highly respected overall. The work ethic and the prep. I’ve seen him influence and make other players better.

“I think Edwin Encarnacion is a good example when we got him from the Reds. I think being around Jose, his conditioning got better. His preparation, watching videos and all those things. Those things can impact and affect other players. Very intelligent, very cerebral player, very instinctive player.”

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