Thoughts heading into the Marlins’ series
Now that the Braves finally parted ways with Dan Uggla and opened the season’s second half with a win over a Phillies club that seems destined to look much different soon, it’s time to begin looking toward what should be an exciting end to this month. While it will be a lot of fun watching Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux savor their time in Cooperstown this upcoming weekend, there will also be reason to keep a close watch on what the team is doing on an off the field.
With the July 31 Trade Deadline quickly approaching, it still seems the Braves’ primary targets will be relievers, specifically the left-handed variety, and role players to strengthen what has been a rather anemic bench.
After two months of being left short-handed, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez can now at least approach the remainder of the season with the confidence that he will at least have a fully-stocked bench. From the time Dan Uggla was benched until the time he was mercifully released on Friday, Gonzalez was forced to to through 65 games (40 percent of the season) with a short bench.
As early as the first week of May we heard about the financial consequences (penalties on loans and future investments) that would prevent the Braves from releasing Uggla this season. Then of course, Uggla forced the team’s hand when he showed up 30 minutes before the first pitch of the July 12 game at Wrigley Field. While some might have speculated that he had just “overslept” most members of the organization seemed to realize this was a calculated move by a frustrated man.
It’s hard to have pity on Uggla considering he has always been guaranteed the remainder (now approximately $18.5 million) of the five-year, $62 million contract extension the Braves provided after acquiring Uggla after the 2010 season. But if his presence was going to continue to weaken the roster and potentially poison the clubhouse, then the Braves had no choice to do what they finally did on Friday.
Unfortunately, the parting of these two parties should have occurred this past winter, soon after the Braves left Uggla off their postseason roster. At the time, it was assumed the Braves should simply be happy if a club was willing to assume approximately $8 million of the $26 million Uggla was owed during the 2014-15 seasons combined.
In the end, the Braves ended up eating a similar amount. But considering Uggla spent the past two months essentially serving as a statue while filling a valuable roster spot, the amount of time it took to cut ties stands as just one of the many mistakes made during Uggla’s tenure in Atlanta. Instead of being the power-hitting second baseman initially envisioned, Uggla will now simply be part of the debate centering around whether his contract was actually worse than the ones signed by Kenshin Kawakami, B.J. Upton and Derek Lowe.
With Uggla gone, the Braves now can used Tyler Pastornicky or Phil Gosselin to share the backup infielder role with Ramiro Pena. Jordan Schafer’s legs and defense have at least provided some hint of value as he has served as the backup infielder. But if possible, the Braves have to find somebody who can prove to be more of a threat than Schafer (4-for-22 as a pinch hitter) and Ryan Doumit (9-for-42 as a pinch hitter) off the bench.
Gattis set to return: With Evan Gattis back in the Braves’ lineup for tonight’s series opener against the Marlins, Christian Bethancourt has been sent back toTriple-A Gwinnett, where he can continue playing on an everyday basis. While handling the starting catching duties for the past few weeks, Bethancourt at least gave the club a chance to evaluate whether he could be ready to handle this role on a full-time basis as early as next season.
There has long been reason to debate whether Gattis is a better fit in the American League, where he could serve as a designated hitter when he’s not catching. But now that he is dealing with a back injury, there is even more reason to wonder how long he might be capable of handling the grind of being an everyday catcher at the Major League level.