Javy Should Stay
Biff Pocoroba, Joe Nolan, Bill Naharodny, Bruce Benedict, Alex Trevino, Ozzie Virgil, Jody Davis, Ernie Whitt, Greg Olson, Damon Berryhill. Ten names of catchers who tried and failed at being the Braves catcher. Ten names of players who may have had some brief shining moments, but nothing terribly special.
Then in 1994, Javier Lopez came along.
We now call him Javy, and we now call him the best catcher in Atlanta Braves history.
Sure, he's frustrated us, and made us wonder why Greg Maddux really doesn't want to throw to him. But the bottom line is he has been the best catcher we've ever had. At times over the past few seasons, you had to wonder if he was done. Lopez made it almost a daily habit of swinging at bad pitches, going fishing for the latest changeup offered up by opponents. Braves fans were merely counting down the days until his bloated $7 million dollar contract expired.
But then something ironic happened. Lopez realized his time was coming to an end. He wanted to go out with a bang. So he did something that a lot of us probably need to do. He lost weight. Javy showed up at spring training looking 23 instead of 33. Was it his excess weight making him mediocre the past few seasons?
Lopez (who just hit a home run as I was writing this) leads all catchers with 13 home runs and is tied for fifth overall in the league. His slugging percentage is right up there with Gary Sheffield's number. More importantly, he has regained his status as a huge offensive threat in the Atlanta lineup. Last season when he was struggling, pitchers looked forward to facing Javy and Vinny Castilla. Now, with both of them performing well, the lineup is dangerous from top to bottom.
Defensively, Lopez might be on his way to his first Gold Glove. He has yet to make an error, and he is second in the league at throwing out baserunners with a clip of 41%. The last number has improved dramatically over the past few seasons, up 16% from the 2000 season.
Yet there are some who believe we should take advantage of Lopez' increased value and trade him now, before losing him for nothing as a free agent this offseason. I say no. We should keep him and hope his last season will be the second time he will be apart of a World Series winning team.
I'm right. Those other people (Jason) are wrong.
Look, it's understandable to wonder what he could bring on the open market. He would command a lot more than last season. But one of the most important positions on the Atlanta Braves, now and forever, is the catcher. Our pitchers need an experienced backstop, particularly one with playoff experience.
We will miss Lopez next season. Sure, we have Johnny Estrada ready to take his place. He'll be younger and cheaper than Javy. But we need to take advantage of Lopez why we have him. The guy is one of the best catchers in the game right now. I much prefer having Javy in our lineup and as our catcher for the stretch drive. Who knows what changing starting catchers would do to a pitching staff.
The main reason not to trade him is that we need nothing substantial. We would not get another catcher for him. Estrada is the man for the future there. The potential need of another reliever does not need to be answered by dealing Lopez. We have more trade bait than any other team in baseball. We can get a Gabe White or a Matt Herges or a Scott Sauerbach without trading our starting catcher.
We should use Javy as long as we can. He's the best the Braves have ever had, and will probably be appreciated more after he leaves. But for now, he should stay.
Javy Should Go
Javy Lopez is in the middle of a terrific season. He has found his power stroke and is slugging an incredible .649, which is tops among all full time catchers in the league.
Which is exactly why he should be traded.
Javy has caught over a thousand games in his career (1,020 to be exact), is 32 years old, and has had trouble staying completely healthy in the last few years. Even more than staying healthy, Lopez has had trouble staying productive the last couple of years, beginning his slide after his terrific 2000 campaign.
At 32, playing a physically demanding position where players fade quicker than anywhere else, and observing the natural statistical slide that occurs with age, can we really believe that Javy's first two months will hold up over the entire 162 game campaign?
It's not likely.
So, what to do? You could hold onto Javy and milk what may be the last good stretch of baseball out of him, forgoing whatever he might bring in a trade. Or you could shop him to a team that may need just what Javy is cooking, even if it is for one season, and maybe the Braves get a valued prospect in return.
After all, didn't the Braves make a deal to bring in a catcher-of-the-future in Johnny Estrada? Estrada is 27, and since playing catcher typically shortens your baseball life cycle, his future needs to be now if it is to be at all.
The Braves need to understand (and they probably do) that Javy's value is the highest it's been since 2000 and realize that, with Javy's career likely winding down as well as his contract, the time is ripe for a trade.
Heck, there is always a sucker in Kansas City that may give you something you want (or even more), and teams like the Astros and White Sox are prime locations for a backstop with a few more miles left in the tank.
Don't get stuck on sentiment here, either. Yes, it's nice that Javy has done it all in a Braves uniform, but a trade won't take any of that away, and if you get something that one day becomes a gem, a la John Smoltz, then Javy can be revered even more. (Admit it, you love Doyle Alexander, don't you?)
The time is now to deal Javy, before the bloom is off this power surge that he is on and he begins to resemble the player he was last season, and before he can put the kibosh on any deal with his 10/5 veto status (coming in July).
Javy has been a great stick in this fantastic run that the Braves have used to jump out in the East this spring, but don't let him become the sore stick that may contribute to a summer swoon, and then realize that you could have gotten something for him.
Then you'd say that I was right, and you were wrong.
Shanks (Georgia) and Walker (Florida) are anxious to take their natural rivalry to BravesCenter every week. They can be reached on the BravesCenter/Fanhome Atlanta Braves Message Board.
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