I wrote in an article yesterday that I look for April 16 as a potential date for Brian McCann to make his return to the Atlanta Braves. That would allow him to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list and come back to the lineup following an off day. The more I think about McCann returning to the lineup, I think the Braves should look at it a different way. Sit McCann the first month of the season.
While I don’t see the Braves taking this route, the logic is simple. McCann has struggled mightily in the final month of the season. Over the past three years, McCann has a .213 average, .642 OPS with just six home runs – all lows for any month (discounting four at-bats in March with zero home runs). Over that same span, McCann had a .273 average and .822 OPS before the All-Star break. You have to go back to the 2008 season to find a September in which he had a higher average (.316) than his career batting average (.279).
Manager Fredi Gonzalez (and going back to Bobby Cox) have made attempts to keep McCann as fresh as possible by giving him an off-day or two each week. In McCann’s younger days, he didn’t have glaring drop-off in production as the season wore on. But as he’s aged, the natural wearing down signs of playing catcher has clearly plagued him.
The beginning of the season is the best time for the Braves to adjust to not having McCann. You can’t plan around an injury in June or July like you can in February and March. They signed Gerald Laird this off-season, an adequate and veteran catcher. The lifetime .244 hitter is coming off a year in which he hit .282 with a .710 OPS. He won’t put up huge numbers but will be a serviceable fill-in.
Then there’s the intriguing, up-and-coming prospect, Evan Gattis, who has hit his way up the minors and has drawn praise from Chipper Jones. Gattis started in the minors as a catcher but recently got shifted to outfield as his production skyrocketed. Now, the Braves have acquired Justin and B.J. Upton in the outfield and also have Reed Johnson as a backup.
Not much playing time is available for Gattis in the outfield. What better time than spring training to get him ready as the backup catcher? He shouldn’t be too far behind to begin with, and the Braves can get him the amount of innings and work with the pitching staff necessary to serve as the backup catcher on opening day and throughout the season.
Losing an All-Star catcher will have an impact, but on paper the Braves should have plenty of offense to manage without McCann for the time he’s out. Laird can provide veteran experience in working with the pitching staff, and Gattis can provide extra pop if the Braves start slumping. The Braves hope McCann can return to his past form with a healthy shoulder. So why rush things? Sit him down the first month to give his shoulder extra time to heal. Then the Braves may have an All-Star catcher at the end of the season and not just the beginning.