COMMENTARY | Issac Netwon once said, "What goes up must come down." I can only assume Ol' Newt was talking about roster moves in Major League Baseball at the time. The Atlanta Braves are set to bring Jason Heyward up for their weekend series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but this means someone else will be forcibly sent back down to enjoy the cramped buses and cheap continental breakfasts of life in the minor leagues. Which Atlanta player is about to be left without a chair when the Turner Field organist stops playing that familiar big-league tune?
Heyward is batting .300 with an on-base percentage of .423. Unfortunately, for Atlanta, these are just the meaningless numbers he accumulated over the course of his six minor league rehab starts with the Gwinnett Braves. As for life in the big leagues, Heyward is coming back to a .121 average and an OBP of just .261. Some could argue that Heyward hasn't even played well enough to deserve the call-up, but the Braves do need him -- they just need him to return to the player he was when he belted 27 home runs and drove in 82 runs in 2012.
David Carpenter, RP
Surprisingly, manager Fredi Gonzalez has floated the idea of having Heyward take David Carpenter's spot on the roster -- a move that would leave the Braves with only six relief pitchers in their bullpen.
"I think we're open to [going with a six-man bullpen].Not too long ago that was a normal 'pen, with six men. Maybe we could go with it for the six games at home," Gonzalez explained.
The potential problem this creates for the bullpen is it can become overworked very quickly. Anthony Varvaro is the only Braves' reliever who has thrown more than two innings during any outing this season. If the Braves' long-relief specialist, Cristhian Martinez, was back from the disabled list, then a six-man bullpen might work, but without a proven arm with the ability to eat up three or four innings during those games in which the starter decides to only give a brief cameo appearance, then the entire relief rotation for the rest of the week can become very discombobulated.
The numbers do say this system would work. The Braves are currently averaging less than three innings of relief work per game. However, this stat becomes skewed very easily when we consider the Braves have played 26 of their first 40 games on the road this season. In the 13 road loses they have sustained so far, the pitching staff has only been required to pitch eight innings. If Gonzalez hopes for the same type of spotty play on the road all season, then a six-man bullpen probably would hold up, but, if Atlanta actually wants to play all nine innings and win a few more games, then that average will start rising considerably. It is a gamble to only carry six men in the 'pen, but it seems to be one Gonzalez is ready to make.
"If it doesn't work, we could make [another] decision," Gonzalez wisely retorted.
Evan Gattis, C/OF
With Brian McCann back in the regular lineup, the majority of Evan Gattis' playing time has come via the left field position. Although Gattis has proven to possess a great outfield arm, he is only hitting .143 during his time covering the pasture in left. Gattis was supposed to get some time behind the dish against left-handed pitchers, but McCann has come back very strong and is actually 3-for-6 with one home run against the southpaws he has faced. If Gattis is going to be thought of as an outfielder, instead of a catcher, then Heyward's return would leave the Braves with an unnecessary number of outfielders on the roster.
The Braves could choose to move Gattis to Gwinnett where he would get consistent at-bats against live pitching, and then bring him back up as needed. The problem remains that, despite his recent setbacks with the bat, Gattis has been one of Atlanta's most consistent hitters. He is currently third on the team in RBIs and second in home runs. Can the Braves afford to simply ship out that kind of production?
Gerald Laird, C
Laird is a tricky case. The veteran catcher signed a two-year contract with the Braves before the season began, but then Gattis emerged and Laird's services started falling firmly into the superfluous category. Teams rarely have a reason to carry three catchers, and since Laird is strictly a grasshopper without the ability to play another position, he is the one player on the roster without a real role.
The Braves won't designate Laird for assignment, rather, they would likely try to trade him to another big league team that could use a veteran game manager -- the only problem is the short window for trying to find a willing trading partner before the Braves would need to make a move on Friday.
Since it isn't very realistic to consider B.J. Upton's $72.5 million contract as a candidate for demotion, Laird is the ideal player to get the axe. His departure would give Gattis the opportunity to reclaim a catching role on the team, and, more importantly, allow the Braves to keep the slugger's bat on the roster. Although I would strongly doubt Laird will remain with Atlanta all season, I don't see him getting his walking papers just yet. A trade-deadline deal seems more likely for Laird so the Braves can work the phones to find a situation where both the team and the player can benefit. Carpenter should be the one to find the red tag in his locker this Friday, but it does worry me that Gattis' status with Atlanta is not 100 percent secure yet. Don't over think this one Atlanta; leave the most productive players on the big-league roster.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jason Heyward
- Evan Gattis