COMMENTARY | The Atlanta Braves have finalized a trade for former Minnesota Twins power-hitting catcher Ryan Doumit in a move that has to be viewed as a desire to implement a safety net in the event B.J. Upton forgets what end of the bat he is supposed to hit with again in 2014.
The Braves were able to withstand Upton's nightmarish .184 batting average because the team carried three catchers and routinely played Evan Gattis in left field while Brian McCann assumed the role of grasshopper. But thanks to McCann choosing to trade in his tomahawk for pinstripes, the Braves were suddenly going to be at the mercy of whatever level of play Upton would bring with him to the ballpark on any given day.
"We discussed [Doumit] at length during the Winter Meetings, and it was unanimous in our room that he was the best player available for us," GM Frank Wren said. "He was the guy who would allow our club to have the most versatility and depth, because he was really almost two players in one."
With the signing of Doumit, Atlanta is once again flush with options around the diamond. Not only will the switch-hitting Doumit provide another catcher with starting experience, but he too has shagged his fair share of balls in the outfield. In 2013, Doumit split his time behind the dish and in right field. In fact, Doumit actually hit .303 when patrolling the pasture in right, compared to just .252 while catching.
As for the forgotten man, Gerald Laird still has one year left on his contract with the Braves and will be expected to remain in that No. 3 catcher's role where he will act as insurance in case of a Doumit or Gattis injury. Laird could also continue to be a starter every fifth day if his designation as Julio Teheran's personal catcher continues into next season.
One interesting side effect of the Doumit signing is that it will now be difficult for catching prospect Christian Bethancourt to make it back to the big leagues in 2014. Since Gattis and Doumit do have outfield experience, it would be theoretically possible for manager Fredi Gonzalez to carry four catchers, but that would be testing the very laws of sanity when it comes to putting together a major league roster.
Bethancourt hit .277 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs for Class AA Mississippi last season before being called up to the show on Sept. 13. The 22-year-old struck out in his only at-bat of the season, but he was still thought to be a player who would see plenty of starts, and could even threaten Gattis for No. 1 catching duties later in the year.
Considering the big names still on the free agent market, does signing Doumit now leave the door opened for Bethancourt to be used as the centerpiece of a potential trade?
The Braves were rumored to have interest in the Chicago Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija before news broke of Atlanta's underwhelming free-agent deal with Gavin Floyd. Seeing as how the Cubs lost veteran catcher Dioner Navarro to the Toronto Blue Jays this winter, Bethancourt would likely be a prospect the Cubs would covet in any proposed deal for Samardzija.
The Braves added Doumit via trade, not free agency, so Atlanta shipped left-handed pitching prospect Sean Gilmartin to the Twins in exchange. Gilmartin was taken No. 28 overall in the 2011 MLB draft, but he has only been able to produce a 12-20 record with a 4.23 ERA in 54 career appearances in the minor leagues. With the amount of pitching talent the Braves already have at the major league level, coupled with names like Lucas Sims and J.R. Graham still yet to make their big league debuts, the once highly thought of Gilmartin became expendable.
While signing Doumit is not a move on par with the New York Mets adding Curtis Granderson, it could be seen as a step in the right direction for Wren, who has been tasked with trying to improve an offense that struck out a franchise-record 1,384 times in 2013.
Doumit hit .247 with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs in 485 at-bats for Minnesota last season, but the best news of this deal could be the fact that Doumit only struck out 99 times in 2013, making him join a very short list of everyday players who did not tally at least 100 Ks for Atlanta. In his nine major league seasons, Doumit has never crossed the century mark in strikeouts.
Good job, Wren … now about Dan Uggla?
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Braves for over 20 years. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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