Gattis gives the Braves options

sports@macon.comApril 6, 2013 

After only a few games of the 2013 baseball season, we know several things about the Atlanta Braves.

First, they are going to hit home runs and score a bunch of runs. Second, Justin Upton is pretty good. And, B.J. Upton is going to strike out ... a lot.

But how about Evan Gattis? How much fun has it been watching him play so far?

He’s a movie-of-the-week waiting to happen. Gattis was out of baseball for several years and wandered the West before he got back into the game. Now, only a few years later, he’s hitting home runs in the big leagues.

Gattis’ production will lead to a few issues for the Braves, mostly good ones. Any time a player pops out of nowhere and is someone you want in a lineup, it’s usually a good thing.

Chances are Gattis will get the majority of playing time until Brian McCann gets back. Manager Fredi Gonzalez just has to get his bat in the lineup, doesn’t he? And Gattis has shown he is pretty good behind the plate, too.

It was no surprise Gonzalez had veteran Gerald Laird in the lineup Saturday, so he could catch rookie Julio Teheran. Laird worked well with Teheran in spring training, so that made sense. But it will be interesting to see if Gattis catches Tim Hudson in the series finale against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.

There seems to be little doubt that Gattis is putting himself in position to be McCann’s replacement next season, if McCann leaves the Braves as a free agent. And this is a tough situation. Everyone loves McCann. He’s been perhaps the best catcher the Braves have ever had not named Javy Lopez, but McCann will be 30 next season, and he’ll be coming off a season in which he came back from major shoulder surgery.

If McCann bounces back and does well this season, he might price himself out of the Braves’ range. And do the Braves even want to invest long-term in a catcher who is hitting that magic age of 30, when they’d know in the final year of a five-year contract he’d be 34 and probably not catching much anymore?

Things would be easier if McCann could play another position, such as San Francisco’s Buster Posey. That’s why the Giants didn’t mind giving the 26-year-old Posey a nine-year extension. He can play first base. But McCann is pretty much limited to playing behind the plate.

That means an AL team, like Texas (the Rangers have A.J. Pierzynski signed for only one year) might be interested in investing in McCann this winter. Then, when McCann can’t catch as much anymore, he can be a designated hitter.

If McCann struggles this season, due to his shoulder, it might be even more difficult for the Braves to give him another contract -- even for one year. So this has the Braves, and McCann, in an awkward position.

But it’s a bit easier because of Gattis. Yes, he’ll turn 27 in August, so Gattis is not your normal rookie catcher. But to have a cheaper option who might be able to provide great offensive production and not even be that much of a drop-off defensively would be a great thing for the Braves.

When McCann returns in a few weeks, the Braves will have a decision to make. Do they send Gattis to Triple-A Gwinnett, so he can get regular playing time and continue to show whether he can be McCann’s potential replacement? Or do they keep Gattis on the big league roster, knowing that he’s someone who can help Atlanta win right now?

And don’t forget about Christian Bethancourt. He’s a 21-year-old catcher in Double-A with exceptional defensive skills. If Gattis proves he’s the future behind the plate, Bethancourt could be valuable trade bait, and there’s nothing more valuable than a young catching prospect with Bethancourt’s upside.

So this will be fun to watch. Gattis was, not too long ago, someone fans asked, “Who is that?” about. Now, they’re going to want to see him in the lineup as much as possible. Let’s not forget what McCann might do once he gets back. But this situation is nothing but positive for a team that seems to have a lot going for it right now.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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