COMMENTARY | A lot of the Atlanta Braves' success in the early going has come from an unlikely hero. Yes, Justin Upton has been a beast and the main reason the Braves are atop the National League East, but catcher Evan Gattis has also been a huge part of their great month of April.
The 26-year-old rookie has come up with some big hits and exceeded expectations. He's received the majority of catching duties and has even played some first base in order to keep his bat in the lineup.
Through 61 at-bats he's hitting .246, but he's hit six home runs, and they all seem to come at just the right time, which is just adding to the great story for the guy who had given up baseball at one point and worked various jobs such as being a janitor and ski lift operator.
With the great play of Gattis it could force the Braves to have to make a difficult decision once Brian McCann comes back from injury. At first it was thought that McCann could be ready by opening day, then we were told mid-April and now it looks like it will be a stretch for the catcher to make it back before May.
The easy decision for the Braves would be to keep Gattis as a fourth outfielder. But that could mean losing Jordan Schafer who has been on a tear lately since seeing increased playing time as a result of Jason Heyward's absence.
But the most pressing concern is that McCann is a free agent at the end of the year. There is absolutely no way you keep him out of the lineup once he comes back healthy, but there is a chance this could be his last season in a Braves uniform, and if that is the case -- with a capable replacement -- could the Braves trade their beloved catcher?
The Braves have no major holes on the major league roster, but with a player of McCann's value they could easily put him in a deal that helps stock their farm system.
My ultimate feeling is that the Braves don't resign McCann after this year. With Gattis playing well and top prospect Christian Bethancourt almost ready to be an impact player, there is almost no reason to give McCann the big money he will most likely seek. If that's the case then it makes a lot of sense to try and move McCann once he proves healthy.
McCann is making $12 million this year and with St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina just recently signing a contract that will pay him $14 million a year, the Braves almost certainly can't afford to keep McCann around, who, if healthy, could still be one of the best offensive catchers in the league.
But McCann has been on a decline for a few years and it looks like his best seasons are behind him; even though he's still only 29, those years of catching seem to be catching up to him.
These situations seem to almost always have a way of working themselves out. But if McCann comes back healthy and proves productive, while Gattis remains hitting the ball the way he has, the Braves will certainly have a tough choice to make.
Jake Mastroianni has written for several websites pertaining to the Braves and baseball in general. He also has experience working in media relations for minor league baseball, as well as at the collegiate level.
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