I think we’re all in agreement that the Braves are well on their way to world domination and should have the entire globe firmly in their cold clutches by this time two years from now. In all seriousness, if we take a glance at the team as currently constructed and the talent that should be coming through the minor league pipeline in the future, the skeleton of a good team is currently in place.
First base is set for the foreseeable future thanks to Freddie Freeman, and the team could potentially have another infield cornerstone in the form of Dansby Swanson. If Ozzie Albies pans out, then the keystone combination could be set for years to come. At third base, Adonis Garcia figures to be a pretty decent bridge to a land that will provide us the talents of either Rio Ruiz or Austin Riley. They’ve got their center field situation figured out with Ender Inciarte set to rob the NL East of dingers for the next five seasons, and they’ve got a bullpen that could be sneaky good soon — either via development or transactions.
If the front office continues to make smart moves in regards to fleshing out this skeleton, then the Braves could indeed be a strong team again by the time 2018 and/or 2019 rolls around. However, they’ve still got a couple of big question marks to deal with that probably takes 2017 out of the picture when it comes to being a contender (and could be a thorn in their side once they return to contention), and one of those question marks is the catcher position.
The position’s been in flux ever since Evan Gattis got shipped to Houston, and even then you could argue that it was still in flux since there were rumors back in 2014 that the Braves wanted to stick Gattis in left field. The Braves thought they had a long term solution in the form of Christian Bethancourt, but things never went right for C-Beth and now he’s in San Diego learning how to become a catching/outfielding/pitching hybrid monster. A.J. Pierzynski was a surprisingly-solid short-term solution in 2015, but whatever he had left in the gas tank completely evaporated by the time 2016 rolled around.
Tyler Flowers filled in admirably as the team’s primary catcher in 2016, but there’s still a decent possibility that the same fate that befell Pierzynski last season could hit Flowers in 2017. When you also take into consideration the fact that the backup catcher is Anthony Recker — who hit .278/.394/.433 and had 0.8 fWAR in 2016, which could arguably be considered a career year for the 33-year-old — then you can see that the Braves are right to be trying to figure out a way to fix things.
The trick is trying to figure out what’s the best way for the Braves to go about fixing this issue. One of the obvious ways to fix it is to bring in another catcher via free agent or trade. There were rumors that the Braves were in on Jonathan Lucroy, but those aspirations appear to be a pipe dream at best. Then there lingering rumors that the Braves were interested in possibly bringing back Brian McCann, but those rumors eventually evaporated as well. Now the rumor mill has moved on to another name that you’ll be familiar with if you’ve been following this particular saga: Matt Wieters.
Wieters is currently a free agent, and could be appealing to the Braves if they could bring him in on a short-term deal. With that being said, he certainly wouldn’t fit as a long-term solution. His best days are behind him, and as Kris noted in this piece, Wieters isn’t exactly the best pitch framer in a league that’s putting more and more value on good pitch framing from their catchers. Simply put, a Wieters signing would be like putting a band-aid on a wound that’s in need of stitching. Yeah, it might work for a little bit but you’ll end up looking like Ric Flair on a bad day after a while.
So if the trade and/or free agent avenues are clogged up, then the obvious solution is to look to the farm and hope that you get something from that position. The Braves did use their second round draft pick from the 2016 draft on a catcher, which means that they obviously hope that Brett Cumberland can turn into something in the future. With that being said, he’s obviously a long way off from the majors and is still making adjustments to the professional game after a rough debut season on the farm. Meanwhile, another catcher to keep an eye on is Lucas Herbert. He did a very good job defensively over in Rome, but his bat still needs time to develop. Hopefully that’ll come with time, and he’ll be afforded the time to get it together. However, he’s also a ways away from the majors, so it appears that the Braves don’t really have any prospects at catcher who will be ready for the big leagues relatively soon.
So that leaves the Braves in a tricky situation when it comes to the catcher spot. There aren’t really any appealing options when it comes to free agency, the trade options are either too pricey or equally as unappealing as the free agent options are, and help from the farm will take a long time to arrive. It’s not the worst thing in the world to head into a season with a Flowers/Recker battery, but this is also not a situation that should be considered a long-term solution by any means.
If the Braves are going to return to relevancy in the near future, then they’ve got to figure out a way to make sure that their catching situation is figured out. Otherwise, they may just have to resort to continuously putting a band-aid on that ugly wound, and the skeleton of a good team that’s currently in place may have to continue walking around with that nasty wound as it continues to flesh itself out.