Mar 11, 2014; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt (58) bats in the third inning against the Philadelphia Phillies during a spring training exhibition game at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Braves Considered Outside The Box Roster Move


March 5, 2012; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt (68) in the game against the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

In there search for a way to improve the roster the  Braves reportedly considered promoting catcher Christian Bethancourt. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Season Team Pos DRS UZR UZR/150
2009 Rays OF 0 6.7 7.5
2010 Rays OF -19 0.5 1
2011 Rays OF -7 1.7 2
2012 Rays OF -4 -2.2 -2.9
2013 Braves OF 2 1.1 1.6
2014 Braves OF 2 2.5 5.6

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?

Positional Problems

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.

Conclusion

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.

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  • Ronnie

    The Braves need a legitimate leadoff guy and one that would solve a myriad of problems would be Emilio Bonafacio. He could play center and leadoff. DFA Uggla and get rid of Schafer. Then the bench could be: Laird, BJ, Duomit, Pastornicky, Pena.

    Bonafacio. CF
    La Stella. 2nd
    Heyward. RF
    J Upton. LF
    Freeman. 1st
    Gattis. C
    C. Johnson. 3rd
    Simmons. SS

    • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

      Though I agree that promoting CB isn’t a cure-all, I honestly don’t see the fascination that many seem to have with Bonifacio. Yes – he has been known to have occasional flashes of brilliance. But just look at his 2014 numbers: .311 on-base average. That’s hardly lead-off material. Additionally his defense is actually only marginally better – if that – in CF. This year he has 2 errors in just 314 innings (roughly half of the innings for the year). For all that, I’d keep Schafer… he costs nothing to obtain, and likely could post Boni-esque numbers with more/regular playing time.

      Doesn’t matter anyway: Bonifacio has an oblique injury, so likely to be on the shelf for a month.

      • Sealift67

        Would like to see Peraza who is now playing 2B get a trial in CF.
        Generally this has worked more than it hasn’t and sets up the
        development of a true LO hitter for next year.

        • Sealift67

          I would correct myself as Peraza can become a true LO
          hitter with his speed and OBS yet he has to cut down
          on SO and increase BB.

          • fireboss

            I think the Braves see Kyle Wren in that role and on that level. I know Peraza has more power than Wren but on base and base running numbers are identical. Out attempts at conversion haven’t been as successful as other – Lipka for example – but there’s no reason why it couldn’t be. It’s early to make that decision and the situation may change. If the player can judge fly balls and is smart it isn’t a long drawn out affair so waiting doesn’t cost anything and switching doesn’t take Wren’s playing time.

      • Ronnie

        Keep Schafer over getting Bonafacio because there similar?? Bonafacio can play several positions, has speed and can hit. Has better numbers than Schafer, BJ. and Pena for that matter. If Heyward gets injured who leads off? At least this move helps the line up and gives Fredi G options.And by the time Bonafacio heals it will be at the deadline and would cost the Braves very little to get him.

    • fireboss

      Agree with Alan, Bonifacio is a 4th outfielder / utility man on a good team. Consistently leadoff men aren’t easy to find and Ideally it would be a RH hitting outfielder or at least one with good splits and a low k%. Those things make it harder yet. If you could pry Lorenzo Cain from KC or Rajai Davis from Detroit they would fill the bill. The problem is they are both critical to their team’s success. I suspect a good late inning reliever would get Davis is Schafer was thrown in to play outfield but we really don’t have one of those to spare. The Royals have crept back into the race in the AL Central so trading their best CF isn’t likely to happen.

      An outside the box candidate might be Alex Rios.He will be available as teh Rangers are done.
      Rios hasn’t hit lead off for a few years but he gets on base at a .350+ clip has 8 steals and plays right w. ell has played center though not in recent years. a Justin Jason Alex outfield wouldn’t be awful.

      My other issue is Jason hitting third. He’s far too streaky for that slot. Freddie is the best three hole hitter we have. If the lineup looked something like

      Rios (R) 279/.320/.443 since 2010

      La Stella (L) TLS will hit lefties because he is a hitter first

      Freeman (L) Doesn’t care much which hand the pitcher uses

      Gattis (R)

      Heyward (L)

      Justin (R)

      CJ (R)

      Simmons (R)

      It would be a very dangerous and deep AL kind of threat.
      I understand that’s a long way down for JUP but I expect a lineup like this to turn over a lot – and scare pitchers to death 1 through 7 anyway.
      Not a choice the Braves are likely to make and I’m not a fan of league switches mid-year but it does make sense statistically and positionally.

    • Mushy Peas

      I also don’t fully understand the Bonifacio fixation. Even more so, I don’t understand the fixation with having your lead-off hitter fufill every stereotype. I’ve said it before that I think way too much is made of what a lead-off hitter should or shouldn’t be. He’s only guaranteed to be leading off once per game. The line-up needs to be seen as a continuous loop and not just a list with a beginning and an end. I think focusing too much on fulfilling stereotypes as opposed to utilizing each players’ individual talents in relation to each other would be detrimental to the team’s potential.

      • fireboss

        it. It does matter who hits where because the game is played by people
        who have beliefs about where they hit best. Believing you are better at a
        spot makes you better there because you are happier there. It’s easy to say forget where you hit and play but people don’t work with that precision. In the NL the lineup isn’t a continuous loop but in every league the leadoff man gets more PA a game than any player. The player should be high obp but not a guy who is more productive at a lineup spot where he’ll get more run producing opportunities. In the NL that’s 3-7. He should also be strike zone wise and capable of seeing lots of pitches; they all should but free swinging power guys don’t. On paper it makes little difference but in practice teams with good stereotypical leadoff men do better than teams without one. Only Rickey Henderson fit all of the stereotype consistently over his career but trying to get close to that has proved a success. The Rangers used Kinsler in that role very successfully and his max was 31 which is a ton for the AL and Rangers but not a league leading number. Speed never slumps so even if a leadoff man is hitting in bad luck a drag bunt or walk keeps the game going. Sure it does for the 7 hole hitter too but the leadoff man and the two guys behind him have more chances every game to do

        • Mushy Peas

          I obviously didn’t articulate my point very well because almost everything you just said is in line with what I was trying to convey. Of course there are certain criteria that need to be met when considering who hits where. What I was trying to say is that there are far more things to consider per each individual and where they hit than mere stereotypes. I was also speaking in general, in part, as a way to justify keeping J-Hey as the lead-off guy. I have seen so many comments that include a reordering of the line-up that don’t seem to really consider all the variables. I can’t really explain what I mean more than that at the moment. I’ll maybe try to readdress this when I can think more clearly. :)

          • fireboss

            I’d prefer he not leadoff either but I look at the alternatives and aside from Schafer see no one who can do it. I thought Simmons could but his bat seems to have gone south as his defensive accolades grew. I wish I could offer someone who could do it but looking at our roster I’m just befuddled

  • fireboss

    And we have an update albeit one that predates Bowman’s story

    David O’Brien @ajcbraves
    #Braves Fredi G also said Sat. he’s not planning to play Gattis at positions other than catcher this yr, unless for game or 2 in emergency.