A Braves trade that might fit: Bethancourt for Lucroy

Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt, left, celebrates with Juan Uribe, and Pedro Ciriaco, right, after hitting a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 9th inning to defeat Pittsburgh Pirates 5-4 in baseball game  Saturday, June 6, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt, left, celebrates with Juan Uribe, and Pedro Ciriaco, right, after hitting a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 9th inning to defeat Pittsburgh Pirates 5-4 in baseball game Saturday, June 6, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

In a half-hour phone conversation Monday, John Hart went out of his way to insist the Atlanta Braves hadn’t seen the last of the demoted Christian Bethancourt. “He won’t be forgotten,” said Hart, the team’s president for baseball operations. “We’re sending him out with a very clear plan.”

As plans go, it sounds sound: Let the young catcher remember how to, er, catch in Gwinnett, as opposed to the National League. Hart noted that Kansas City had sent the highly regarded Mike Moustakas to Omaha for eight games last season and that St. Louis had similarly dispatched Kolten Wong to Memphis for 18 games. But I’m not sure Bethancourt will be back so soon, if it all.

The Braves could live with Bethancourt not hitting much, which he hasn’t. (He was batting .208 through Sunday and had lost his starting job to A.J. Pierzynski, the 38-year-old who was brought here to catch twice a week at most.) What tore it for the Braves were the passed balls: Bethancourt, who’d made 27 starts, had five; he had six last season, when he made 29 starts.

It’s not uncommon for a gifted young catcher to have lapses in concentration — Johnny Bench, the greatest ever, had 18 passed balls as he was becoming the 1968 rookie of the year — but that’s really the only way to explain such a thing. (Bench also hit 15 home runs with 82 RBI’s, which helped salve the sting.) If you’re not hitting, you’d darn well better be catching. Bethancourt, advertised as a top-shelf defender, was doing neither.

If the Braves were 10 1/2 games out of first place, they could have let Bethancourt learn on the job by saying, “What’s the difference? We’re not going anywhere.” But they’re 3 1/2 games back, and if you’re that close you hold out hope you can get somewhere if your bullpen stops blowing saves and your young catcher stops giving away games.

Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt, left, celebrates with Juan Uribe, and Pedro Ciriaco, right, after hitting a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 9th inning to defeat Pittsburgh Pirates 5-4 in baseball game  Saturday, June 6, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Christian Bethancourt after his walk-off homer beat the Pirates. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Asked if the Braves would be buyers or sellers at the July 31 trade deadline, Hart said: “Right now we’re holding.” Then this: “If it were mid-July, I’d be aggressively looking (to buy). I’m old-school that way. If we’re smelling it … “

Then this: “I can’t go out and re-invent the wheel. If there is a clear piece, you make every effort you can. (But) I’m not going to abandon ship (meaning the overall course of the franchise). We’re not going to chase down something where we just gut our farm system and do something crazy.”

Put simply, the Braves aren’t about to trade young and cheap for older and pricy in the hope that this unassuming team might up and win the division, which Baseball Prospectus gives them a 2.4 percent chance of doing. (The Braves tried that with the five-prospects-for-Mark-Teixeira deal in 2007, and it took them until 2010 just to pluck a wild card. The grateful Texas Rangers, meanwhile, graced both the 2010 and 2011 World Series.)

Hart and assistant GM John Coppolella made the considered choice to rebuild around young pitching. We can argue whether they oversold in that attempt; we cannot argue that there hasn’t been a method to the selling. But nobody really expected the Braves to be this close to first place this deep into the season, and even today the team’s brass is surprised to see the ridiculously gifted Washington Nationals only two games ahead.

If you’re a realist, you have to think that the Nats’ talent will eventually be brought to bear and the Braves’ modest resources will be their undoing. There’s not apt to be a trade for a major bullpen upgrade that doesn’t involve parting with young pitching, and that’s a trade the rebuilding Braves won’t make.

But what if the Milwaukee Brewers, owners of the second-worst record in the majors, could be persuaded to part with catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who’s 29 and who’s under contractual control through 2017? (He’s due to make $4 million next season and $5.25 million if the team exercises his option for 2017.) Lucroy isn’t Johnny Bench or even Brian McCann, but he was an All-Star last season, and he’s healthy after missing six weeks with an injured toe.

The Brewers would almost certainly demand Bethancourt, who’s 23, in return. Given that he isn’t a pitcher and that he hasn’t exactly dazzled the new hierarchy, that might be a deal the Braves would be willing to do. It would provide an immediate boost at a key position without skewing the payroll or skewering the Grand Redesign.

Note that Hart said he wasn’t going “to gut our farm system and do something crazy.” Bethancourt-for-Lucroy would be neither a gutting nor an act of insanity. It wouldn’t be a Teixeira-style one-year rental. It would be a move for this year but not just this year. And if you’re saying, “It would cost a rebuilding team its catcher of the future” … well, we’re no longer certain Bethancourt will be part of that future, are we?

Further reading: Hart on the Braves – “Right now we’re holding.”

Reader Comments 0

69 comments
ajcreadernorthgeorgia
ajcreadernorthgeorgia

I said it last year in one of these things that CB should have learned another position or the Braves should trade him instead of Gattis - CB is not major league catcher material, (remember Tyler Houston) should have realized that when AJ, with all his baggage, is the catcher the pitchers want. Knew this one was coming and we can't get anything for him - make him an outfielder and you might get some return for the investment. Who knows, we may a hidden Murphy waiting to be unleashed!!!!!! If Milwaukee is interested, pull the trigger on this one! It will be their problem for such foolishness - LOL!

joedavis
joedavis

Didn't the Braves trade Hale, or somebody for a slew of young catchers during the off-season?  Are any of them worth a damn?

BillEGoat
BillEGoat

WHY would the Brewers even THINK of trading Lucroy for Bethancourt? The Braves would have to toss some other players into that deal, and they would have to be good, solid players. 

the_thompsons
the_thompsons

Passed balls are only one defensive stat worth looking at...and if you combine C_WP+PB/innings caught, Bethancourt is in the top 12 in the league for catchers with 130+ innings caught, because he's got the LOWEST C_WP/innings caught among all 50 of those catchers (C_WP is Wild Pitches thrown by the pitchers while catching). There is no stat for "wild pitches prevented". So he misses a few that he should catch (passed balls), but he also stops way more than his share of pitches that he shouldn't by preventing wild pitches (this assumes equal accuracy among all pitchers; I have no other way to find the balls vs. strikes by team, but assume the Braves pitchers are just as apt to throw a 59 foot pitch as the rest of the teams' pitchers). But he pretty close to an automatic out at the plate...not much production.


Gattis? He's a DH. He's not even catching in Houston, and it's not like it's because they have an all-star catcher. He's also not much of a DH...is 2nd to last in the AL in OPS among every day DHs.


Us fans are often simpletons...to a fault. Scouts, coaches and GMs generally know much better than we do.

SkokieDog
SkokieDog

...or, MB, Hart could flip the young, underperforming catcher for Jeff Francoeur, an older, underperforming outfielder.

Baghead
Baghead

What is the incentive for Milwaukee?  What kind of ridiculous suggestion, only 50 games in to the season, is this swap?  Maldonado is complete garbage.  I mean worse than Bethancourt.  The $4MM owed to Lucroy isn't all that bad and even if the Brewers (19 games out) wanted to do some salary dumping, why would they ever do an even catcher trade such as this with Atlanta?  You consistently amaze me Bradley.  Unreal.  How do you go home and tell your grandchildren you have a real job??

Beau1500
Beau1500

@Baghead Agree - did you write this column on the way home from happy hour last night??  It's really gettng old Mark.  How many years have you been doing this now? 

Art Vandalay
Art Vandalay

Gattis isn't the best defensive catcher in the league, but he can hit! He also put fans in the seats. We miss El Oso Blanco!

BradleyBreeze
BradleyBreeze

Yeah Bethancourt and another couple pitching prospects like Wisler and Sims might sway the Brewers.Lucroy's value is too much at this point!

ChopChamps95
ChopChamps95

@BradleyBreeze You're an even bigger @$$hat than you sound most of the time if you think Hart is throwing in the top organizational pitching prospect and the center piece of the Kimbrel trade to the Brewers for a catcher that was off a horrible year before his toe problem.

ATLBrown
ATLBrown

Why on earth would the Brewers make that trade?

Baghead
Baghead

@Ray Goff Anyone? B/C he's mediocre at best.  He practically sux at the plate.  AND, we got good value for him.   His obp is .261.  

ajcreadernorthgeorgia
ajcreadernorthgeorgia

@Baghead @Ray Goff Anyone? Mediocre at best is still better than Bethancourt, plus the power numbers are better than anyone on the roster except Freeman - and he can play other positions (Gomes) - comparing Bethancourt and Gattis is not worthy of the deceased electrons we are creating in this discussion.

ChefTimDix
ChefTimDix

BC smells of Frank Wren and Hart hates the stentch...He's out of here.

RangeRover
RangeRover

Bethancourt is missing the most important thing for a catcher...heart!

The best catchers have some serious attitude...Bethancourt seems indifferent.

BarrowCountyShawty
BarrowCountyShawty

I hate to be Buzz Killington but MLBTR has already discussed the fact that the Braves inquired about Lucroy a while ago and were rebuffed. Basically, Lucroy's not for sale, even if the Brewers begin a massive rebuild. 

BigIrishMike
BigIrishMike

I don't remember this being said but in the five-prospects-for-Mark-Teixeira deal did he (Teixeira)  ever say he wanted to stay with the Braves?  Or was that just the Braves thinking they had a link to him staying in Atlanta because of his time at Ga Tech?  

It takes a long time to overcome that big of a misread by the front office. I hoping after Upton it never happens again.

I would normally say lets give Bethancourt 7-10 days with the G-Braves but will that really help him? 

ComaToes
ComaToes

It is hard to believe that a team like Atlanta is only 3.5 games out of first, since they now have a losing record. They broke even for the first two months at 25-25, but are 6-8 so far this month. That won't last long.  Either the Mets or the gNats will run away with it after the all star break. The Braves are a AAA team playing in a weak division.

AABraves
AABraves

Maybe throw in Teheran for the best pitcher we can get in the deal...starter or reliever...? It may be time to sell on both of them...

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

If you are the GM and you have an opportunity to make this trade (which I doubt) then you have a decision to make on Bethancourt. Otherwise, wait him out another year or two. The big problem here is they pretty much went all-in with Christian WAY WAY WAY too early in his development curve (and a lot of us pointed that out every step of the way). They don't know what they have, except that he has some requisite athletic ability and otherwise appears to be overmatched.


I don't know why people keep dismissing his offense. Who wants a catcher that hits like CB does at this point? Losers. That doesn't mean he won't develop; Y. Molina wasn't all that hot early on, either. But if they want to field a minor league team don't expect me to buy tickets.

khd713
khd713

@DawgDadII I guess I don't understand the whole development curve thing. I don't understand what you mean when you say that the Braves went all in on him way, way too early. Do you mean they gave him the starting catching job way too early? That he should still be seasoning down in the minors? Bethancourt is 24 years old and has been part of the Braves system for eight years now. So, that doesn't make sense to me. Andruw Jones was starting in center field when he was 19. Christian is five years beyond that, so what gives? Either you can play or you can't, and it seems pretty clear to me that this kid can't. He just doesn't have it. That's a shame, because the Braves have obviously wasted a whole lot of time and resources trying to develop him into a starting catcher. 

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

@khd713 @DawgDadII OK, I guess you'd vote to trade him. I don't care that much whether they keep him or trade him, it's just clear (and has been) he isn't ready to hold down a starting job in the majors.


What we as fans don't really know is how the kid is handling all this, which may be part of the reason for his problems and sending him down. People mature at different paces; not every successful major leaguer followed AJ's career path (some lasted longer on the back end). What we do know is he doesn't hit much, which puts a ton of pressure on him to excel defensively and in handling the pitchers, because otherwise he doesn't belong up here.

Lovebaseball
Lovebaseball

I'm telling you! Another big mistake from the Braves Front Office. LET B Play and Learn from his mistakes. If they send him to the minors, he will not learn the ropes of the ML's and the parks. I wish the Braves would allow him to improve at the ML level. He will be a QUALITY CATCHER SOONER RATHER THAN LATER. He is one of the few bright spots in a very mediocre team. How stupid of the Front Office people. Will be talking about how good he is within a VERY SHORT TIME. Let the guy play and learn now. What happened to experience is the best Teacher.


Yours Truly, LoveBaseball

SkokieDog
SkokieDog

@khd713 So, the subpar relief pitching is caused by the subpar catcher? I believe you might need to rethink that one. 

khd713
khd713

@Lovebaseball Bright spot? Ha! Hitting .208 with six passed balls and doesn't know how to handle our relief staff. Not what I'd call a bright spot.

peanutgallery
peanutgallery

I am stunned to see how bad Betancourt is at the plate. In ~220 AB he has racked up a 7-1 SO to W ratio. Simply put he is a hacker and a very poor one at that. Those are numbers that make BJ look like Edgar Martinez. 


Either the talent evaluators are dead wrong about him or he needs more time in the minors.

gfw
gfw

Lucroy is batting well under his average so far this season, but I still don't see the Brewers doing a straight swap on the basis of mere ML potential in Bethancourt.  Wouldn't they want a lot more in a trade?  After all, Lucroy batted .320/.280/.301 the last three years. 

SkokieDog
SkokieDog

@gfw There you go injecting reality into this discussion.

khd713
khd713

Bradley has joined the braying chorus of commenters here and elsewhere who are always enlightening us with their hypothetical trade scenarios, which almost always can be summarized as, "hey, let's trade our (bad) (underperforming) guy(s) for their (good) (overperforming) guy(s)." Thanks for impressing us with your remarkable GM talents. Now, how far are you willing to go to make that trade happen? Are you willing to throw in a starting pitcher, or a Jayce Peterson, or a top prospect? Because that's what it may take. In fact, I'd be surprised if Milwaukee wanted Bethancourt at all. 

Intruder
Intruder

The Braves spin was so effective concerning Bethancourt, that two months ago, the faithful herd would not have traded him for Brian McCann. They will run with anything coming from master spin doctors Chip and Joe, even to dreaming of the possibility of extending their 8 game WS losing streak verses the Yankees. Try the mute button sometimes, it's nice to have.

khd713
khd713

@Intruder Yep. The hype around Bethancourt (No. 1 prospect!) had been off the charts for years before his arrival in Atlanta. When he finally got to play a few games last year, I think the entire Braves fanbase was shocked to find out that his game is actually quite pedestrian, to say the least. Where did the hype come from? He's never been able to hit. He has a good arm, but it's not mind-blowing and his arm certainly isn't going to transform the team the way a real superstar No. 1 prospect should be able to, especially when he can't catch the ball or call a good game, either. What a bust, and what a bunch of malarky we were fed by the Braves announcers, former GM and president, all of whom sang this kid's praises almost daily. They are either idiots or liars. Not sure which is worse.

SkokieDog
SkokieDog

@khd713 Don't rule out the possibility of their being lying idiots (or idiotic liars if you prefer). 

Get The Picture
Get The Picture

I thought the Gattis deal was bad from the start, Braves had him on the cheap and knew he would hit. That ship has sailed, the Lucroy deal would be a good one if the Brewers would consider it. Most of the rest of Hart's moves have been pretty good.

freezboy
freezboy

It won't happen straight up...we would have to give more than Bethancourt

SeanLB
SeanLB

Bethancourt is an example of how we tend to "hang onto the dream" when it comes to young players.  He's 24 - in other words, if you don't see "it" now, you never will.


I'd love for him to develop, but don't hold your breath.  If the deal is there, take it.  

Iknownussing
Iknownussing

Would get Gattis back, but his back is an issue.  I am sure he is happy on a first place team in Houston, but we sure miss him!

TomGaff
TomGaff

Call the Houston Astros and see if they will trade us Gattis for the young Bethancourt? Gattis is 28 yoa, now don't say that is old. Now I'm in my 60's, that is considered old or as I like to say "mature"! His big bat in the middle of our singles hitters could be something special?