MLB: The return of Joey Bats

(Photo Credit: Keith Allison)

The free agent market this offseason matched the iciness of an East Coast winter, so it's no surprise that some players were still left out on the market well into Spring Training and even the start of the season. Jose Bautista is one of those left out in the cold at age 37 and has finally signed a minor league deal with the Atlanta Braves, according to an announcement by the team on Twitter. 

It's an odd signing. The Braves have plenty of top prospects in their minor league system, including top outfield prospect Ronald Acuña, so there's certainly no need for Bautista in the field as a defensive option, even though the plan is to use him at third base. But let's face it, that's not the reason you think of signing Bautista in the first place. There's a reason he's the man they call "Joey Bats." 

The Braves are 9-7 on the year so far and if they were looking to bring up a little more power into their lineup with Bautista, that ship may have sailed a few seasons ago. Bautista is coming off one of his worst seasons, putting up a slash line last year of .203/.308/.366 with an OPS of .674. Bautista's last decent season was back in 2014 but since then, he's been on a decline. 

The Braves aren't lacking offense

The Braves have a lot of young talent on the way up and one of those guys is already proving more than capable to produce when it counts. Ozzie Albies, at 21 years old, is leading the way in the team's offensive production. He's currently batting .310 with an OPS of 1.000. Bautista can't come close to matching those numbers even with SunTrust Park favoring hitters.

The Braves' 24-year-old shortstop Dansby Swanson isn't far behind Albies either. He's batting .344 with an OPS of .904. 

And if you're looking to make the argument that maybe they're looking for that "veteran in the clubhouse" type of presence for these youngsters, they already have that too. Freddie Freeman more than covers that presence and puts up fantastic numbers at the plate. Freeman is currently batting .286 with an OPS of .967. 

The last time Bautista was able to maintain an OPS over .900 was back in 2015, and even then it was barely over that mark at .913. 

A second life

All of these numbers aside, if the Braves wanted to remain optimistic, they're essentially betting on that Bautista will be able to revive his career with a strong showing in the minors. I could see them trying to use him off the bench as a power hitter, though in the past year he's only had two opportunities as a pinch hitter, and both times could produce nothing from those appearances. In fact, the last time he was able to get himself an RBI in a pinch-hit situation, was in 2008 while playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

Bautista is expected to make $1m if and when he gets called up to the Braves but unless he turns back into the player that once led the majors with 54 home runs in a season, it looks like this could be just a waste of time for an Atlanta team that doesn't need to get older.

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