It’s a very rare set of circumstances. One that not many teams in sports will ever experience. Something that appears so positive that it can’t possibly bring a negative or complicated outcome to your franchise. That circumstance is getting healthy.
Baseball teams worry about health from the moment Spring Training begins and they don’t stop worrying about it until the last pitch of October is thrown and a champion is crowned. The Braves have had their fair share of injuries to begin this season but fortunately we have plugged players in there that have been able to experience a great level of success and lead the team to what is now a 12-1 record to start the season, very impressive.
A lot of these injured players will have a home waiting for them when they return, a spot on the diamond and a place in the line up. Freddie Freeman will be one of those guys who when he returns will not have any trouble fitting back into the line up nor will Jonny Venters when he returns to the bullpen.
However not all of the Braves players will be so lucky. Brian McCann if not for the fact that he wasn’t challenged enough by off season shoulder surgery and the long road to recovery as a catcher coming off that procedure, he has been met with the bitter sweet moment of realizing that Evan Gattis while helping the team win baseball games is also in the process of taking his job.
Does anyone remember the name Wally Pipp? If any of you do I’m quite impressed but if you don’t then you certainly are in the majority. Wally Pipp was the starting 1st baseman for the New York Yankees until one day on June 2, 1925 he showed up at Yankee Stadium complaining of a terrible headache.
Manager Miller Huggins suggested that Pipp take the day off and they’d let that “Gehrig kid” play a game over at 1st base. Wally Pipp got two aspirin from the trainer of the Yankees and decided to take the day off. Well that “Gehrig kid” went on to play 2, 130 consecutive games for the Yankees at 1st base and Pipp would lose his job with the Yankees forever.
You can’t help sickness sometimes, such as a simple headache and sometimes you can’t prevent something like a shoulder injury from occurring but your manager also can’t prevent someone from permanently taking your job while you’re on the shelf either. With the importance of wining and the importance of drawing big crowds on a nightly basis, the manager can ill afford to sit a player who is red hot and helping the team win ball games. Which could spell trouble for Mr. McCann when he returns.
With the numbers that Gattis is putting up right now, what are the odds that McCann could duplicate or surpass them? With the way the pitching staff is performing, could we really assume that McCann could do a better job at handling the pitchers? I’m not sure there is a lot of room for improvement at the catcher position in Atlanta.
Now Fredi Gonzalez will have to make some major decisions regarding the roster when McCann comes back. Will he carry 3 catchers? Gattis can play catcher, 1st base and left field, not extremely well on the latter but he can put the glove on and put a good effort towards fielding the other 2 positions to keep his bat in the line up. Then there’s the idea of trying to teach Gattis to play 3rd base, which personally I view as a disaster waiting to happen. Very few bats in Major League baseball are worth a defensive liability and if people think Francisco struggles at 3rd base I don’t even want to tell you how poorly I think Gattis would be at the hot corner.
The option to trade someone is there, although with McCann’s contract situation that also gets tricky. McCann would be an excellent fit for an American League team who could DH him once or twice a week to keep his bat in the lineup and his legs fresh. It would also extend his career in the long term as well. Laird is barely into his 2 year contract so trading him doesn’t seem like a likely scenario either. Although they do have the benefit of him being signed past this year which could pose the question of, can we trade him for bullpen help if injuries continue to plague us at the back end? A lot of teams may be willing to trade a 3rd or 4th guy out of the pen for a catcher if they are experiencing a shortage in their organization.
To all the Brian McCann fans out there and I know there are a lot of you. There’s hope and not all is lost for your favorite Brave. McCann is still held in extremely high regard within the Braves organization and is still one of the best hitting catchers in all of baseball as his stats don’t lie.
The other aspect to this equation is that Evan Gattis has an extremely small sample size and every pitcher he has faced is facing him for the very first time. The opposition doesn’t have much film on the young catcher and it’s likely that when teams face him a 2nd, 3rd and 4th time the results will vary a little bit in a downward direction.
When a player is going well it’s perfectly normal for a fan base to rally around him and get excited, that’s what being a fan is all about. However the Braves have been down this road before and have not always been pleased with the results.
Tim Spooneybarger: The Braves top bullpen prospect who compiled absolutely outstanding numbers during his 3 minor league seasons as he compiled an era of under 1.00. Came up to the majors in 2001 and was supposed to be the next great closer in Atlanta. His numbers as a Brave weren’t that bad but some say his personality clashed with the coaching staff and was left off the post season roster that year. He was traded shortly after that to the Marlins and his career fizzled out shortly after that.
Jeff Francoeur: I know you all know this name and if you’re anything like me you can’t help but love the way this guy plays baseball. I hate to say a bad thing about Francoeur because he has managed to put together a decent big league career and is still one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. However when Francoeur began his career with the Braves he was labeled as the next “face of the franchise” and as a guy who would bring a championship to Atlanta. And then on July 10th, 2009 he was suddenly traded to the Mets for a mediocre outfielder in Ryan Church.
The question to me becomes, we may never know how good Gattis can really be without adequate playing time but at the same time it’s hard to sit one of the best hitting catchers in all of baseball and one of the Braves most respected leaders on the bench. A very difficult decision for Braves management awaits, just glad I’m not the one who has to make it.
By: Bob McVinua