The World Series commenced last night, and you might have noticed that one of its participants has two catchers who used to work for the Atlanta Braves. You might also have noticed that two pitchers who were Braves – Charlie Morton and Alex Wood – figure to get starts for their respective teams before the weekend is out, but we’ll limit this discussion to catching.
Brian McCann got the winning hit in Game 6 of the ALCS and the clinching hit in Game 7. He also made the key defensive play of Game 7, snagging and holding Alex Bregman's throw to nail Greg Bird at the plate. Evan Gattis – whose surname was invariably mispronounced as “goddess” by John Sterling, the voice of the Yankees who was once the voice of the Atlanta Hawks, during the series – hit the winning home run in Game 7. Those two are part of the reason the Astros are where they are, which has to mean the Braves were wrong to let them go – right?
McCann and Gattis were 4-for-26 in the ALCS. McCann’s first hit came in Game 7. Gattis’ first (and only) hit came in Game 7. Their combined Baseball-Reference WAR value this season was 2.5. Their combined salary was $22.2 million. McCann is 33 and on the back nine of a distinguished career. Gattis is 31 and caught only 49 games this season.
The reasons the Braves had for not keeping them were and remain valid. McCann was allowed to leave as a free agent in Dec. 2013 by the Frank Wren administration. The Yankees paid $85 million over five seasons for his services, with a team option for $15 million come 2019. Gattis was traded to Houston a year later by the just-installed John Hart/John Coppolella tandem because his defensive work wasn’t good enough to justify making him an everyday catcher and because he held greater value for an American League team, which could deploy him as a DH.
In return for Gattis, the Braves – whose rebuild was just getting started – got Mike Foltynewicz, who had a very good first half of the 2017 season and a really bad second half, plus third baseman Rio Ruiz, who spent some time in the majors this summer without stamping himself as a keeper. For a man who had no real position in the Braves' league, prospects on the order Foltynewicz and Ruiz were/are a solid return.
Oh, and in case you missed it: The catching duo of Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki was, after Freddie Freeman, the second-best thing about the 2017 Braves. For an aggregate $4.5 million, the Braves got a B-Ref WAR of 4.5. (If you’d prefer back-of-the-baseball-card stats, try these: Flowers and Suzuki combined for 31 homers and 99 RBIs.) Again going by WAR, the Braves had the best catching in the major leagues . The Astros had the 17th-best.
The GM-less Braves announced Monday they’d exercised their 2018 option on Flowers. They’d re-upped Suzuki just before Coppolella was forced to resign. Together their catchers will make $7.5 million next season. This is still a temporary solution – Flowers is 31, Suzuki 34 – but it has proved both cost-effective and competitively sound. And there’s a chance Alex Jackson, whose defense needs much work but whose bat (to invoke the baseball argot) will play, could make his major-league debut next season.
As much as we like to see every transaction as win-or-lose, many of them simply serve a purpose. The Braves didn’t want to pay what it would have taken to keep McCann, which made sense. Indeed, the Yankees traded him to Houston to make room for Gary Sanchez, who helped lift them to the ALCS. (The incongruity of Games 6 and 7 was that the Yankees are paying $5.5 million in salary to the man whose hits and tag beat them.) The Braves had no place for Gattis, but the Astros did. And the Braves’ bought-on-the-cheap catchers turned out just fine, thanks.