Braves sign center fielder Stubbs to minor league deal

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Braves’ crowded outfield picture got a bit moreso Wednesday with the signing of Drew Stubbs to a minor league contract.

He’ll be invited to the last three days of major league camp, and the Braves will determine whether he’s worth having on the roster as a right-handed hitting backup center fielder to complement starter Ender Inciarte.

Since the Braves already have named corner outfielder/pinch-hitter Jeff Francoeur to their opening-day roster, it would appear there would be only one remaining roster spot to go to one from the outfield trio of Michael Bourn, who’s owed $14 million this season in the last year of his contract; Emilio Bonifacio, who’s making $1.25 million on a one-year deal; and Stubbs.

Center-field defense and speed are the main assets of Stubbs, 31, who was released by the Rangers this week after exercising an opt-out in his contract when he wasn’t going to make their opening-day roster despite going 12-for-40 (.300) with two homers and three stolen bases this spring.

He hit just .195 with five homers and a .665 OPS for Colorado and Texas in 2015. He’s a .244 career hitter with a .313 OBP and .395 slugging percentage, though Stubbs has hit 15 or more homers in three of six full seasons in the majors, and hit a career-best .289 with 15 homers, 20 steals and an .821 OPS for the Rockies in 2014 (13 homers at Coors Field).

Stubbs had 22 homers for Cincinnati in his first full season in 2010, then 15 homers while leading the league with 205 strikeouts the following season. He had 30 or more steals in three consecutive seasons for the Reds through 2012.

Whatever happens with Stubbs, it’s expected to have no effect on Jeff Francoeur, a right-handed hitter but more of a corner outfielder, despite being used some in center in recent weeks to gauge if he could be a suitable backup.

The Braves have a starting outfield of Inciarte flanked by Hector Olivera in left field and Nick Markakis in right, with too many backups in Francoeur, Bourn, Bonifacio and now Stubbs potentially added to the mix.

While the Braves might possibly carry an extra position player until they need a fifth starting pitcher April 12 in Game 7, they would not carry more than five outfielders beyond that point, if they even do it until then. So to keep Stubbs they would presumably have to trade or release both Bonifacio and Bourn.

The Braves ate outfielder Nick Swisher’s $15 million salary when they released him Monday with a year left on his contract.

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