ATLANTA — After a season of having three catchers at manager Fredi Gonzalez’s disposal, the Braves have decided they want to do it again. The team traded for veteran catcher Ryan Doumit, sending minor league pitcher and former first round draft pick Sean Gilmartin to the Minnesota Twins.
Doumit, a veteran of nine seasons with the Twins and Pirates, gives the Braves the flexibility they want from a third catcher and provides a veteran switch hitter power source off the bench. Doumit can play both corner outfield spots, as well as first base.
“We saw last year by having that third catcher it gave Fredi the flexibility to use two of our very best pinch hitters in the game and two of our very best pinch hitters are (Evan) Gattis and (Gerald) Laird,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “And by having that third catcher you can utilize all three of them.”
Wren said the Braves’ stance has not changed, that Gattis is still their “frontline catcher” after the departure of Brian McCann. Laird provides the Braves their best defensive option behind the plate and is still considered their No. 2. But now Doumit is a versatile piece to fill out the Braves’ bench, something Wren has proven to be adept at constructing in recent years.
Wren said the Braves have had discussions with the Twins for about a week on this front.
“When we sat down in our meetings on Monday, with all of our baseball people — we had about 15 people in the room — it was pretty much unanimous that this was the guy that would make us the best baseball team that was out there,” Wren said. “Of all the free agents and all the trade possibilities.”
Doumit, 32, is a career .268 hitter with 99 home runs. He has also hit .262 for his career as a pinch hitter. He has reached double-figures in home runs in five of the past six seasons. He has played most of his career behind the plate (639 starts) but has also seen time in right field (89 starts), first base (32 starts) and left field (16).
Doumit had an off year in 2013, hitting .247 with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs but a career-year in 2012, his first with the Twins, hitting .275 with a career-best 18 home runs and 75 RBIs. Doumit is in the final year of a three-year $10 million contract. He’s making $3.5 million in 2014.
Gilmartin was drafted 28th overall by the Braves out of Florida State in 2011 but as he approached the upper levels of the Braves minor league system, other prospects began passing him over.
Gilmartin went 3-8 with a 5.74 ERA in 17 starts for Triple-A Gwinnett last season, which included two months out with shoulder tendinitis. He was back healthy at the end of the season, though, making four more starts. Wren said Gilmartin joins the Twins with a clean bill of health.
“You always have to give up something to get something and Sean Gilmartin — I think he’s going to pitch in the big leagues,” Wren said. “I think we have some depth there. I think guys, specifically guys like Alex Wood, have kind of jumped over him. So it’s one of those situations where I think it might be best for Sean to get a fresh opportunity.”
One prospect this trade will have no bearing on, Wren said, is top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt.
“When he’s ready to be our catcher, he’ll be our catcher,” Wren said. “We think he is our catcher of the future and when he earns that, he’ll be in a spot to take over that role. But none of us know whether that’s going to be this year or next year.”
Bethancourt has made consecutive appearances in the Futures All-Star game. He’s known for his rare athleticism behind the plate, a strong arm and above-average speed, which is highly uncommon for his position.
The Braves plan to send Bethancourt to Triple-A Gwinnett this season hoping to see continued improvement offensively. They liked the strides he took in Double-A Mississippi, where Bethancourt hit .277 with 21 doubles and 12 home runs, after hitting .243 with five doubles and two home runs in an injury-riddled 2012 season in Double-A.
Going forward, if Bethancourt shows he’s ready to make the jump to the majors as early as this season, the Braves could trade one of the veterans playing ahead of him.
The Braves left last week’s winter meetings still hoping to add depth to their rotation, which they did by signing Gavin Floyd on Monday, and adding to their bench, which the Doumit trade accomplishes. Their highest remaining priority — bullpen depth — is not as pressing.
“We have a good bullpen right now, so anybody we add to that bullpen is going to knock somebody we presently have in the bullpen out,” Wren said. “So it’s not like we have holes that have to be filled.”
The Braves have expressed interest in re-signing free agent pitcher Eric O’Flaherty to a one-year contract, and O’Flaherty has expressed interest in returning, but he’s still exploring his options. O’Flaherty is expected to return from Tommy John surgery sometime in May.
“We’d love to have him back, but a lot of that is going to depend on if clubs feel like they can overlook the Tommy John surgery and give him multi-year,” Wren said. “I think that’s going to be the motivating factor.”