COMMENTARY | Fredi Gonzalez could be in danger of being cast for the next season of "Hoarders." The third-year Atlanta Braves manager has taken to collecting so many catchers that it may be time for his neighbors to call on the authorities to get him the help he needs. Since Brian McCann and Evan Gattis are proving to be valuable pieces to a potential playoff push, Gerald Laird is the odd man out on the Atlanta roster.
Rule No. 1 about hoarding: If it has been unused for over one year then it is time to toss it. Adjusting this concept for the MLB season, Laird is bordering on irrelevant. Even before McCann returned from his offseason shoulder surgery on May 6, Laird was only being used sporadically. The 33-year-old veteran catcher made just 8 starts in the first 30 Atlanta games -- this from a player who was technically given the starting catcher's spot coming out of spring training. Gattis quickly demoted Laird to a backup role, and his depth-chart slide has only continued.
Since McCann reclaimed his starting role behind the dish, Laird has made just three starts in 13 games. The 27 percent of action he was seeing with McCann out of the lineup has slide to just 23 percent since the six-time All-Star returned.
Gattis has shown he can play left field as needed. His powerful catcher's arm has already been on display as he has two outfield assists in only six games patrolling the pasture in left. Laird, on the other hand, is strictly a catcher. The only place Gonzalez has to play him is behind the plate. This means, as Gonzalez tries to find games to use Laird, he would be actively stealing at-bats that could go to Gattis.
Gonzalez may just be fooling himself by leaving Laird on the bench. Even though Laird rarely starts, the manager has also continually overlooked him in pinch-hit situations. Laird has only been asked to pinch-hit twice this season -- meaning he has the same number of at-bats as Gattis does home runs in that role. If Laird is not going to start and Gonzalez is not going to use him off of the bench, then what exactly is his purpose on the roster?
Laird's play is not the issue here. He is batting .289 and has contributed six RBIs in his limited role. The problem is that his spot on the roster is needed elsewhere. When Jason Heyward, Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman all served time on the chain gang of MLB's disabled list, Laird's presence went largely unnoticed. However, with an Atlanta team nearly back to full health, there simply is not enough room on the roster for a third catcher.
Gonzalez made the decision to move to a six-man bullpen when Heyward returned from his DL stint. Ousting Laird would free up a spot to add another much needed arm to the Braves' 'pen. Eric O'Flaherty is likely done for the season -- following in the fate of Jonny Venters -- leaving Craig Kimbrel as one of the only proven arms Gonzalez has late. If the Braves are going to try to build a patchwork bridge to Kimbrel in the nineth using a lot of middle relievers, then it would be wise to have as many patches out there as the Braves can get. J.R. Graham already has an overnight bag packed and waiting for when the Braves give him the call.
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
- Fredi Gonzalez
- Brian McCann
- Evan Gattis