LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- This might come as a shock to Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and, frankly, the rest of North America. But in some ways, Ryan Doumit was the key to the Atlanta Braves' whole offseason.
"Wow," Doumit said Monday, when informed of this blockbuster news. "Really?"
OK, better add Ryan Doumit himself to the list of people who would find this news shocking. But now let's explain what we mean.
You may have shrewdly detected that Brian McCann doesn't work here anymore. So the Braves' tentative plan, manager Fredi Gonzalez said Monday, is for Evan Gattis to catch 110 games or so, and for backup Gerald Laird to catch most of the remaining 50-ish games.
But it's the ability of Doumit, obtained in a December deal with Minnesota, to catch, play first and bounce around the outfield corners that gives Gonzalez the flexibility to still have Gattis available as an offensive weapon, even on nights he doesn't catch.
So how does that make Doumit, a guy with a .766 lifetime OPS, the Braves' secret weapon? We'll let GM Frank Wren explain it.
"We had a long discussion about this at the winter meetings," Wren said. "We wanted a left-handed bat, a guy who was a threat off the bench. And when we started looking at the possibilities, the thought process was being able to use Laird and Gattis the way we wanted to.
"In a big situation, if it's a night Laird is catching, you want to be able to use Gattis [as a pinch-hitter] in the eighth inning with the game on the line. But [with two catchers] you don't have a catcher if something happened. So having that third catcher really balanced it.
"Well, then, all of a sudden, Doumit's name came into the conversation because he's a switch-hitter, and a power bat primarily from the left side. But he gives you that flexibility that, OK, if it’s a left-hander pitching, you can pop Gattis up there, and if it's a right-hander, you can pop Doumit. And you've got power potential coming off the bench. And there should be enough playing time for everybody."
But the key to all of it is that Gattis has to be ready to graduate to be the primary catcher. And the answer, laughed Eddie Perez, Gattis' mentor and coach, is: "We're gonna find out."
"People ask, 'Do I think he's ready?'" Perez said. "And I say, 'Look at the games he caught last year [especially when McCann was out early in the year].' Every game he played, we pretty much won. And the games we lost, it wasn't because we gave up a lot of runs."
Good call. The Braves went 26-16 last season in the games Gattis started behind the plate. And the losses included two 1-0 games, a 2-0 defeat, a 2-1 loss and three 3-1 games.
Meanwhile, the Braves have no doubt about Gattis' readiness offensively. He and McCann had almost the same number of at-bats last season -- and Gattis hit more homers than McCann (21-20), hit more doubles (21-13) and both drove in (65-57) and scored more runs (44-43).
"I want him to just do what he did last year," Gonzalez said. "I don't know exactly how many games he caught. But the [pitchers] were comfortable with him. I remembered having a couple of conversations with veteran pitchers that had a chance to throw to him. And they really liked him. They liked the way he catches and calls a game. ...
"If I didn't see him catch last year, I would be uncomfortable. But now that I've seen him work, I'm not. Even [pitching coach Roger McDowell] says he does his homework, he follows the game plan [and] he'll change the game plan in the middle of the game if he has to. And that's just something he'll get better at and more comfortable with, the more games he catches."
But because this will be the Braves' first season without McCann since 2004, Gonzalez was asked if he'll have to be more hands-on with Gattis than he was with his former catcher. The manager decided a bigger priority was his own personal safety.
"I'm not gonna come close to him," Gonzalez quipped. "Have you seen the size of him? I'm gonna call him 'Sir.'"