At long last the Atlanta Braves All-Star catcher Brian McCann will join the team for the 2013 season. The six-time All-Star has been out all year after off-season surgery on his right shoulder. His return was also slowed by wrist soreness, but he is now reportedly fully healthy and active for tomorrow's game against the Reds.
McCann has spent the last week-plus playing in seven rehab games for Braves minor league affiliates in Rome and Gwinnett, where he hit .348 with an impressive four home runs in 23 at-bats. In previous years, a hitter like McCann returning to the Braves lineup would give the team a big boost, but this year there's the curious case of The White Bear.
Evan Gattis ranks in the top-10 in the Majors in WAR at the catching position, and has an OPS (.859) higher than any McCann has posted in the past four seasons. He's also thrown out 30% of base stealers. In short, Gattis has been one of the most potent offensive threats on the team, one of the best catchers in baseball, and he was just named the National League Rookie of the Month. Why would the Braves take him out of the lineup?
The answer is that Brian McCann can be that kind of offensive threat too. It's better to have two offensive juggernauts at catcher rather than one, or none.
The most obvious answer as to how to get all the potent bats in the lineup at the same time is to move Justin Upton to right field and play Evan Gattis in left. Fredi Gonzalez has stated that he doesn't want to move Justin to right, just as he is getting used to playing left field for the first time.
As for right field, Jason Heyward has resumed baseball activities after his appendectomy two weeks ago, and could be ready to rejoin the lineup in 10 days. So any move of Justin to right field would necessitate a move back to left when Heyward returns.
Gattis has already played some first base when Freddie Freeman was out, but he has also spent a considerable amount of time playing left field in the minors and this past winter. It shouldn't be too much to ask Justin Upton to move to right field, at least not as much as it would be to ask rookie Evan Gattis to play his third position this year.
Getting as many potent bats in the lineup as possible is vital to the Braves offense right now. The Braves will have to find at-bats for Gattis in left field and at first base and catcher when Freeman or McCann need a day off. One of the big luxuries of a player like Gattis is that it allows the Braves to keep McCann rested and fresh the entire season.
For his career McCann's worst two months have been August and September, representing a significant decrease in production as the rigors of the season take their toll. Having the luxury of using Gattis to spell McCann while not losing any offensive firepower is a huge advantage that the Braves haven't had before. Even when David Ross was here there seemed a reluctance to use him more frequently. Perhaps this year with a recovering McCann, Fredi Gonzalez will see the benefit of more days off for McCann, and the production of Evan Gattis should drive his decision.
If Freeman's slow return from the disabled list is any indication, the Braves will need Gattis' bat in the lineup while McCann catches up to Major League pitching. Yes, he hit well in his minor league rehab (as did Freeman), but that is not Major League speed.
The Braves head out on another grueling 10-game road trip that will take them to the West Coast. We'll see how Fredi handles the lineup. It will also be interesting to see if Gattis and McCann start a little offensive competition of their own... or at least a competition to see which one has the best beard and shaved head combo.
Tyler Pastornicky will be sent down to triple-A to make room for McCann on the active roster.