COMMENTARY | The depleted Atlanta Braves' bullpen got a much needed shot in the arm on Thursday when the team called up left-handed reliever Alex Wood from the Minors. Unfortunately, the take-a-penny leave-a-penny nature of MLB roster moves meant Juan Francisco needed to clear out his locker to make room in the Braves' clubhouse. But, was manager Fredi Gonzalez right in making Francisco the player to get the ax?
Including Evan Gattis, Atlanta has a roster that includes six outfielders and three catchers. It was clear to everyone that walking papers would have to go to either Gerald Laird or Reed Johnson. But, in a surprise move, Gonzalez opted to designate Francisco for assignment and promote Chris Johnson to be the Braves' new solo purveyor of third base.
Francisco had been hitting .241 with five home runs and 16 RBIs while splitting time at third with Johnson. Gonzalez announced earlier this week that the right-handed swinging Johnson would begin seeing the bulk of the playing. He is hitting .346, and would actually have the No. 4 ranked average in the National League, if he had enough at-bats to qualify. Still, the move leaves the Braves a little lean in a few areas.
Where Francisco will be missed?
For one, Johnson is not the same hitter against right-handers as his is against lefties. While all five of Francisco's round-trippers have come off right-handed hurlers, Johnson has put up a goose egg in the same category. Johnson is hitting .420 against southpaws, while his average drops significantly to a -- still very good -- .300 against righties.
Another area in which the Braves will miss Francisco is as a left-handed power hitter off of the bench. Francisco's exit now leaves Jordan Schafer as the only lefty-stick Gonzalez has to turn too late in games. Schafer has been a bright spot this season -- hitting .308 with a .426 OBP -- but he is not a serious home run or run producing threat as a pinch hitter. Francisco getting designated for assignment should not hurt the Braves too much on a day-to-day basis, but they will feel his absence in certain situations. Was there a better option to send packing instead of Francisco?
Answer this one question: Which MLB teams need to carry three catchers? Give yourself a gold star if you realized this was a trick question. The answer is of course that no team ever needs to have a triumvirate of grasshoppers squatting behind the plate.
When Gattis emerged as a true MLB option at catcher, Laird became irrelevant. For that matter, Brian McCann is now borderline expendable and will likely not be resigned in 2014. But, with regards to Laird, the Braves are using a roster spot on a player who has only appeared in 16 games this year. Brian McCann didn't start his 2013 season until May 6, yet, he has already played in 18 of the Braves' contests. Laird's games-played number gets every worse when you consider that he has only actually made 10 total starts -- less than 20 percent of the time. Exactly what benefit is having him on the roster fulfilling?
Oh yes, he has become Julio Teheran's personal catcher and mentor -- as if no one else is capable of taking up that mantle. Brian McCann is a six-time All-Star at the position. Certainly opening up a much need roster spot is worth allowing Mac to call games for the 22-year-old. Considering the fact that Laird has also been asked to pinch hit a grand total of one time this season, his one and only function on this team is being Teheran's personal battery mate. Sorry Francisco, apparently that is more important than actual productivity.
Francisco's future with the Braves
Atlanta was in a tough position in that Francisco, Schafer, Johnson and Laird were out of Minor League options. Because of this, the Braves could not simply make a roster move and send any one of them to the minors. The Braves will now have ten days to find a trading partner for Francisco, release him or send him strictly to the minors. It appears Atlanta is going to lose Francisco as Gonzalez indicated a trade is the most likely scenario.
"The good thing about this for Juan and also for us ... two or three clubs called on Juan. There's a chance we trade him, Gonzalez said. There may be a possibility Juan gets to go to a major league club someplace else."
Now the Braves just have to hope Chris Johnson can play up to the same standard as an official everyday player. Here's hoping Johnson can stay healthy all season. If not, Ramiro Rena is now the heir apparent at the hot corner.
Was losing Francisco really a better decision than releasing Laird?
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
- Sports & Recreation
- Atlanta Braves
- Gerald Laird
- Juan Francisco
- Fredi Gonzalez