With the surge of Evan Gattis, do you think this could be Brian McCann's last season in Atlanta? Or going even further, is it possible he could be dealt before the Trade Deadline, and what might the Braves be looking for in return?
-- Ben S., Washington
Long before Gattis arrived on the scene, the assumption was that McCann would complete this season with the Braves and then sign with an American League club to serve as a catcher/designated hitter. While knee-jerk reactions have led some to wonder whether the Braves might trade McCann this year, it seems more reasonable to assume he will stay with Atlanta for the remainder of the season and then hit the free-agent market.
Gattis made a great first impression, hitting six home runs through the first 61 at-bats of his career. But within this small sample size, we have also been reminded that life at the big league level could continue to prove more challenging for the 26-year-old rookie catcher. He has batted just .158 (6-for-43) in his past 11 games, although all six hits he has compiled during this span have been for extra bases (three home runs and three doubles).
Like it would be ridiculous to predict "superstardom" based on six home runs in 61 at-bats, it would be unwise to predict "bust" based on what we've seen over the course of Gattis' past 43 at-bats. In fact, the most logical assessment is that we have not yet seen enough of the powerful catcher to confidently predict what the future holds.
We certainly have not seen enough of Gattis to simply discard the accomplishments of McCann, a six-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger Award winner. As McCann plays in Minor League rehab games over the course of these next two weeks, the Braves will get a better sense of what to expect from him, offensively and defensively, upon his return from shoulder surgery.
If McCann returns healthy and regains the successful form he has had throughout his great career in Atlanta, the Braves are going to have a proven middle-of-the-lineup threat who will play with a chip on his shoulder. He is motivated to make what may be his final season in his hometown a special one and prove that he's indeed worthy of the big paycheck that could await him via free agency. If you're wondering about the potential benefits of employing a talented player who has been doubted during his prime years, check out Justin Upton's numbers.
At the beginning of this season, there was reason to believe Gattis might return to the Minors when McCann returned to regular action at the big league level. The thought was that Gattis would benefit from the chance to catch every day in preparation for his potential role as Atlanta's starting catcher next year. That option now seems far less likely. It seems hard to believe the Braves wouldn't at least keep Gattis' powerful presence on the bench. But the organization has to look at all angles, including whether compiling a limited number of at-bats would hinder his development.
Some have suggested platooning the right-handed-hitting Gattis and the left-handed-hitting McCann. But this seems more of an option for fantasy owners, who do not care about the two-year contract Gerald Laird signed this offseason to serve as the backup catcher. Braves general manager Frank Wren has said this is a good problem. He is also fortunate in the fact that he does not have to solve it while Gattis is just three weeks into his career and McCann is seemingly at least two weeks away from being ready to play at the Major League level.
Why do the Braves continue to bat B.J. Upton at the top of the order? I'm not saying bench him, but maybe bat him eighth until he gets going? The ability to get on base seems kind of crucial right now with Justin Upton hitting so many solo home runs.
-- Seth R., Griffin, Ga.
However you slice it, the Braves do not have a legitimate leadoff hitter. Andrelton Simmons was given the role by default at the start of the season, and he has compiled a .182 on-base percentage in the seven games he has batted leadoff.
B.J. Upton might be best suited to hit anywhere from second through sixth in the lineup. But the veteran outfielder has at least compiled a .302 on-base percentage in the 12 games he has served in the leadoff role.
With the Tigers starting three right-handed pitchers this week, I would not be surprised to see Jordan Schafer get a crack at the leadoff spot in a few games. In fact, maybe the Braves should platoon Schafer and Reed Johnson at leadoff until Jason Heyward returns from the disabled list.
This certainly doesn't serve as a long-term solution. But it might serve as a Band-Aid for a team without a legit option for the leadoff role.
What's the Braves' history in extending a pre-arbitration or arbitration-eligible player during the season? If they do so, who do you think makes the most sense to extend currently?
-- No name given, Collierville, Tenn.
Entering Spring Training, there was reason to think the Braves would try to lock up both Heyward and Freddie Freeman. But while the club showed some interest in discussing this possibility, the talks seemed to die quickly. It takes two to tango, and this was a dance Heyward and Freeman were not willing to partake in at this time.
McCann might have left some money on the table while garnering approximately $42 million since he signed his current contract before the 2007 season. But on the other side of the equation was Jeff Francoeur, who passed on a slightly more attractive offer the Braves made at the same time.
Since the start of the '07 season, Francoeur has made approximately $25 million, and more than half of that has come from the two-year deal Royals general manager Dayton Moore gave him last year.
What will happen when Brandon Beachy eventually returns?
-- Cody S., Montclova, Ohio
The Braves will certainly count themselves fortunate if their starting rotation remains healthy and continues to produce at its current rate until Beachy returns in late June or early July. With all things being equal, the easy answer is that Julio Teheran would be the odd man out. But a lot can and likely will change over the next two months.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com.