As we watched the Braves come from behind and take the series from the Angels, Mark Bowman tweeted the there’s been talk of promoting Christian Bethancourt to be primary catcher, moving Evan Gattis to left. Justin Upton to right and Jason Heyward to center.
Though a decision does not necessarily seem imminent, the Braves have discussed the possibility of promoting Bethancourt to serve as Atlanta’s starting catcher. If this decision were to be made, Gattis would move to left field and Justin Upton would transition to right field. To complete this equation, Jason Heyward would replace B.J. Upton in center field.
Bowman’s complete post is here. My immediate thought was; wow that makes no sense.
There is of course a need to make changes. BJ’s revival at the plate was more a case of hitting bad pitchers and luck than a genuine change. He still argues strike calls that catch a lot of the plate, he still strikes out way too often and he’s starting to let it affect his play in center. He was never the great, fleet footed maker of outstanding plays many portrayed him to be but he was an above average fielder most of the time as these numbers from Fangraphs show.
Earlier in the year he twice failed to makes catches going back on balls and started playing deeper. That resulted in flairs dropping in that he was catching last season. This week he took a bad route on a ball to right center and ended up trying and failing to make a basket catch. Saturday he took his eye off a ground ball and it went all the way to the wall setting up a big inning for the Angels The camera showed him shaking his head and exhaling heavily, apparently wondering what the heck was going on. He now leads center fielders in errors (5) and is on thin ice according to that post from Bowman.
But (Braves) patience has worn thin as the defensive miscues have further highlighted the fact that Upton’s bid to bounce back from last year’s career-worst season has not yet materialized.
It’s not unreasonable to think a change needs to be made yet they waited 2 years plus on Dan Uggla to recover. Uggla’s presence and continued failures might have forced them to try and act on BJ sooner simply because they can’t hide two players making a combined $28M this year. There are however lots of things that make this appear to be more spitballing ideas than a plan in the making.
The Moving Parts
The first issue is the roster itself. As I’ve noted before, the only players with minor league options amongst the current 25 man crew are Gattis, Andrelton Simmons and Tommy La Stella. I think we can assume those folks are safe. The bullpen needs help not thinning so again the Braves won’t likely move to to an 11 pitcher roster. So if Bethancourt comes up someone has to go. There are a few ways this could happen.
1) The way that makes most sense and has for a long time now is the DFA Uggla. I ask Bowman about that but he didn’t reply meaning he doesn’t know or (shock) doesn’t respond to all of his Tweets or both. More than likely is the idea never got past that particular hurdle as choosing to DFA Dan goes against the way the Wren front office operates. When Kenshin Kawakami struggled he still had options and finished out his Braves career on the roster in Mississippi making $6M a year. When Nate McLouth was spiraling down the toilet he still had options so they shuttled him back and forth to Rome, Pearl and Gwinnett as well as letting him polish the pine. Instead of kicking Derek Lowe into touch they traded him with all of his salary for Chris Jones – now floundering around the Orioles organization – so they could call it a trade instead of a DFA. The Indians had no such save face issues and released Lowe that season. So an expensive but simple DFA would mark a sea change in their procedures.
2) Trade an existing player for a prospect with options to make room for Bethancourt. That would work and the likely players would be Jordan Schafer and Gerald Laird because of their position duplication. Laird is potentially more valuable but there’s no big return there.
3) DFA a player other than Uggla – Jordan Schafer is the most likely candidate though he would certainly be claimed and would result in something like the Lowe trade or option 2.
However they make the numbers match, would it be a smart thing to do?
There’s no doubt Bethancourt can catch at the major league level, the question has always been his bat. This year that seems to have come around at least enough to make him better than BJ or Schafer. We all know that Jason can play center as well as anyone so that’s not an issue. Justin was in right for Arizona and while not in Heyward’s class he is in the tier just below; doesn’t have the arm or speed but does a good job and is dependable. The fly in the pudding is the idea of returning Gattis to the outfield.
As an outfielder Gattis a good catcher. His left field defense would cost us runs and games. The move might well affect his offense as well, he struggled at the plate when playing left but it could be argued that he’s a smarter hitter now and it wouldn’t be a big deal.
The bench would presumably be BJ, Ryan Doumit, Ramiro Pena and two from Schafer, Laird and Uggla. That’s a pretty iffy bench, not that the current one is great shakes. If it’s Schafer who goes it looks like the swap of a left handed base stealer for a right handed one in BJ.
This is a one of those bad ideas that surface when brainstorming fixes. There’s not much good to come from it and a lot of obstacles to overcome to make it work. On top of that it does nothing to address the issue of getting another high OBP contact, gap to gap hitter who doesn’t try to hit it out with every at bat. It takes a man who is becoming a very good catcher and puts him in a place where he’ll never be more than adequate and may become a liability. It replaces a gold glove right fielder with a good one but one that weakens defense there. Add to that the question of whether Bethancourt will hit in the majors or not and if your doing one of those pro-con lists this idea gets a slam dunk in the trash can quickly.
That’s A Wrap
Front offices discuss all kinds of issues and trades they have no intention of making. There’s been a constant clamor to change things with BJ the target now that Dan is a pine shiner. This is quite probably a way to let the fan base know they are working on solutions. The roster does need to be adjusted, changes need to be made; notably biting the bullet on Uggla and shopping BJ with cash before he becomes Uggla Part II.. I’m glad to see them thinking outside the box but his is a little too far outside; back to the drawing board please.