We know from last year’s decision to start David Ross at catcher instead of Brian McCann in the NL Wild Card game that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez can be bold with his postseason personnel decisions. That one worked, despite the 6-3 loss, as Ross had 3 hits including a 2-run homer, and McCann drew a walk in a pinch-hit appearance while the Braves tried to rally after the infamous infield fly call.
Now, as Gonzalez prepares for his first Division Series matchup as Braves manager, he’s shown he’s not afraid to sit high-paid players who aren’t producing in favor of lesser known players who are. Gonzalez and GM Frank Wren have decided not to include 2B Dan Uggla and pitchers Paul Maholm and Scott Downs on the team’s 25-man roster for the NLDS, putting $24.65 million worth of salary aside, instead focusing on putting the most effective and efficient players on the field.
Uggla is clearly the biggest name left off the roster, and is also the team’s highest paid player, with a salary of $13.15 million. It’s no secret Uggla has struggled all year; in 136 games, he has hit .179. He does, however, have 22 HR, 55 RBI, and 77 walks. Since the Braves acquisition of Elliot Johnson to fill in while Uggla was out for LASIK surgery, Uggla hasn’t really been the starting second baseman; if anything, he and Johnson have shared the starting role. I assumed, however, that Gonzalez would save Uggla for a potential pinch-hit appearance in a spot where a left-handed pitcher was on the mound, possibly with men on, to give Uggla a chance to contribute with a home run, or even a double. He does, after all, have the third most HRs on the team, behind Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman. Then again, he was just .133 with 1 HR in 77 plate appearances after his LASIK surgery in mid-August. For the record, Uggla was 0-4 with a walk in his lone postseason appearance, last year’s NL Wild Card Game.
It is likely Jose Constanza or BJ Upton was the “last man in,” at least among position players, and Uggla was the “first man out.” Constanza has been back and forth between Atlanta and AAA Gwinnett since the start of the 2011 season. In 100 career major league games, he is a .278 hitter, with 12 stolen bases. Constanza can certainly hold his own defensively as well, as can BJ Upton. Upton has struggled, much like Uggla, since signing the largest contract in Braves history in the offseason. His average is just five points higher than Uggla, at .184, although it was briefly at .200 on September 3, for the only time all season. Upton’s most likely role, however, will be to pinch-run for C/LF Evan Gattis in the late innings, and/or replace Gattis defensively after his final at-bat of a game. Constanza’s role will likely be very similar, as he too is an excellent base-runner.
Maholm isn’t nearly as much of a surprise as Uggla. He started the year off strong, winning his first three starts, but is just 7-11 since, and has a 4.41 ERA for the season. This is partially due to him battling wrist and elbow injuries, but he’s even struggled at times that he was completely healthy. Maholm is a free agent this winter, so we may have seen the last of him in a Braves uniform.
This was a good decision by Gonzalez, because Freddy Garcia was the one given the fourth rotation spot Maholm would have had. Garcia bounced between the majors and AAA all season for the Orioles, before being acquired by the Braves on August 23. He’s only made 6 appearances for the Braves, with 3 starts, and is just 1-2, but has posted a 1.65 ERA. As a starter he allowed just 4 runs in 19.2 innings pitched. Adding to this is Garcia’s postseason experience. While Maholm has never made a postseason start, Garcia is 6-3 with a 3.28 ERA in 10 postseason starts, including the World Series-clinching game in 2005 with the Chicago White Sox.
The last of the three, and the biggest surprise, is Scott Downs. Downs was the Braves’ headline acquisition, a couple of days before the trade deadline on July 29. The veteran left-handed reliever provided Luis Avilan some much-needed help. While Downs’ numbers aren’t that great, he hasn’t struggled too obviously. In 25 games for the Braves, he is 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA. He’s pitched 14 innings and given up 19 hits and 8 walks, with 15 strikeouts. His WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched) is 1.93, not a very good clip. Like Maholm, Downs has not made a postseason appearance in his long career.
It is impossible to tell which bullpen arm left Downs on the outside looking in, although the most likely candidates are Jordan Walden, whose effectiveness has been questionable since a groin injury in late August, and David Hale, who makes the playoff roster despite just 11 innings pitched in 2 big-league appearances. Both of Hale’s appearances were starts, but Gonzalez and Wren are confident enough in the rookie to place him in the bullpen for the NLDS against the Dodgers. Perhaps his role will be long relief, if a Braves starter struggles, or a long outing, if necessary, in an extra-inning situation. In those 11 IP, Hale has given up just 1 run.
Note: Anthony Varvaro, who is 3-1 with a 2.82 ERA in 62 appearances this year, was also left off the roster. He did allow a run on 3 hits in his last appearance, Saturday against the Phillies, and 2 runs in an inning pitched September 23 against the Brewers.
Overall, the roster is very solid, and after examining the reasoning of Gonzalez and Wren on who is on and off the playoff roster, I agree with each move except leaving Downs off and putting Walden on. Of course, in the event of injury, the roster could change, and it could also change at the discretion of Gonzalez and Wren in the event the Braves advance to the NLCS.
The full roster is as follows:
Pitchers (11): Luis Avilan (LH), Luis Ayala (RH), David Carpenter (RH), Freddy Garcia (RH), David Hale (RH), Craig Kimbrel (RH), Kris Medlen (RH), Mike Minor (LH), Julio Teheran (RH), Jordan Walden (RH) and Alex Wood (LH).
Catchers (3): Evan Gattis, Gerald Laird and Brian McCann.
Infielders (5): Freddie Freeman, Paul Janish, Chris Johnson, Elliot Johnson and Andrelton Simmons.
Outfielders (6): Jose Constanza, Jason Heyward, Reed Johnson, Jordan Schafer, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton.