Braves facing tricky decisions on J. Upton, Gattis
Outfielders could bring in big haul but weaken lineup's power for 2015
ATLANTA -- When the Braves sent Jason Heyward to the Cardinals, there was reason to wonder if they would also trade both Justin Upton and Evan Gattis. But two weeks later, it seems more likely to assume Upton will be dealt and Gattis will back in the middle of Atlanta's lineup next year.
With Upton positioned to gain a hefty payday as one of baseball's top free agents following the 2015 season, and Gattis undoubtedly best fit to serve as a designated hitter for one of the American League clubs that has expressed interest, there would be reason to for the Braves to justify addressing any of their many needs by trading either of these two players.
As the Braves look toward the future, with the constant reminder that they are working with a weak farm system and limited financial flexibility to address immediate needs, there might be temptation to trade both Upton and Gattis this winter.
But the Braves do not seem too keen about blowing up their roster and essentially throwing in the towel on the 2015 season. Such an approach would likely draw outrage from a fan base that the club wants to keep energized as it prepares to market Sun Trust Park's opening in 2017.
Braves president of baseball operations John Hart has accepted the unenviable task of guiding the organization through a period in which it must weigh how much can be sacrificed now to improve the odds of being a consistent playoff contender when the new stadium opens.
Hart has not ruled out the possibility that Upton and Gattis might both be back with the club at the start of next season. At the same time, he has repeatedly said that every move he makes will be aimed toward strengthening the club beyond 2015.
Unfortunately, the best interests of the club's long-term future might be rooted in a trade that involves either Upton or Gattis.
Now, Hart simply has to decide whether it makes sense to bring back Upton and Gattis at the expense of sacrificing what could be gained via trades. Another option would be to gain at least one strong return by trading just one of these valuable power sources.
While the offensive contributions might fuel the analysis, the Braves also have to evaluate whether they would truly be comfortable forming an outfield mix that includes Gattis and Upton manning the two corner positions.
From a defensive perspective, Upton proved to be an average left fielder this past season. But he struggled while playing right field in place of Heyward the previous year. As for Gattis, the Braves can only hope that having a chance to get comfortable with the position throughout Spring Training will allow him to prove more effective than he was when he produced a minus-10 Defensive Runs Saved in just 342 1/3 innings at the position.
If the Braves make a choice between these two players, they would likely keep Gattis, who will earn approximately $600,000 next year and is under club control for four more seasons. The Braves have not discussed a potential contract extension with Upton, who will receive $14.5 million in 2015 before entering the free-agent market, where he could command an average annual salary between $20-25 million.
As inquiring clubs have continued to describe the asking prices for Upton and Gattis as "steep," they have seemingly verified that the Braves are not feeling pressured to move either of these two players this early in the Hot Stove season. But the demands will change as teams start exhausting manners in which to fill their needs.
By gaining potential top-flight starter Shelby Miller in the Heyward deal, the Braves gained reason to feel better about a rotation that is still being constructed. But in order to establish themselves as legit players in the National League East race, they still need to add at least one more Major League-ready starting pitcher and address questions that surround second base, the outfield and the bullpen, which currently lacks a dependable left-handed specialist.
The Braves are committed to pay approximately $76 million to nine active players currently under contract (accounting for projected arbitration figures for Mike Minor and David Carpenter) and Dan Uggla. This leaves somewhere between $25-30 million for the remainder of the roster.
By dealing Upton, the Braves obviously would gain significant financial flexibility in their attempt to round out their roster. But along with saving $14.5 million, they would be bidding adieu to a 27-year-old outfielder who entered this September as a legit NL MVP candidate.
During his two years in Atlanta, Upton has totaled 13 more home runs (56) than any other Braves player and compiled an OPS (.826) that ranks second on the team to Freddie Freeman's .871. The club's next two leaders in OPS on this list are Gattis (.791) and Heyward (.752).
Sending away Upton and Gattis would essentially erase any protection for Freeman in the lineup. Trading just one of them would also likely have a negative impact on next year's offensive output.
Keeping both would provide hope for the offense, create concerns about the outfield's defense and possibly deny the Braves a chance to strengthen their future.
These are the variables Hart and his staff will continue to weigh as they navigate their way through what has already been a very intriguing and eventful offseason for the Braves.