Atlanta Braves: Emergence of Other Third Basemen Made Juan Francisco Expendable

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Atlanta Braves: Emergence of Other Third Basemen Made Juan Francisco Expendable
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Before the Atlanta Braves prepared to face the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first game of a three-game set at Turner Field on Monday, they sent veteran third baseman Juan Francisco to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for minor-league pitcher Tom Keeling (via ESPN)

The only shock about the deal was how little the Braves were able to get for Francisco, as Keeling was sent to Double-A Mississippi after the deal was finalized.

What is not a shock is the reason why Francisco was shipped away from Atlanta for the second straight year. 

Atlanta's two other third basemen, Chris Johnson and Ramiro Pena, have been two of the most pleasant surprises in the organization this season, and Francisco's departure solidified their spots on the 25-man roster as long as they remain healthy.

Johnson was acquired during the offseason as the other piece in the Justin Upton trade with Arizona, but he is proving to be as valuable as Upton. 

It has been Johnson, not Francisco, who has calmed the concern about how the Braves would replace legend and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, who retired after last season. 

Johnson has become as close to an everyday third baseman as you can get because of his impressive performance at the plate during the first two months of the season. 

The 28-year-old went into Monday's game leading the Braves in hitting with a .336 batting average.

While he may not have the power of Francisco, Johnson has been a model of consistency at the plate, and that means more at the moment to an organization witnessing the struggles of B.J. Upton (.156 BA) and Jason Heyward (.142 ERA). 

Johnson also brings with him an element of versatility, as he can play first base as well. He did just that for 11 games earlier in the season when Freddie Freeman was on the disabled list. 

With Johnson now cemented into the starting lineup for the most part, the Braves needed a player who could not only play third when called upon but also the other infield positions. 

That is where Pena has stepped in. 

Pena, who was signed by the Braves in December after he was let go by the Yankees, has emerged as a quality option off of the bench as someone who can play third, second and shortstop.

The 27-year-old native of Mexico not only has provided himself as a valuable defender off of the bench, but he has also delivered with a few clutch pinch-hits this season as well. 

Pena first made an impact on the team's fortunes on April 12 in the club's comeback win at Nationals Park over Washington. He provided a crucial bunt single in the eighth inning before hitting a two-run home run in the 10th inning the game.

Pena presumably secured his spot on the 25-man roster with his first-inning home run off of Washington's Nathan Karns in a starting role on Sunday in his team's win over its divisional foe. 

Another aspect of Pena's game that gave him an advantage over Francisco is his ability to hit from both sides of plate.

Being able to call on a switch-hitter in Pena is a much more viable option off of the bench for manager Fredi Gonzalez than the right-handed hitting Francisco. 

With Pena's ability to hit from both sides of the plate, it will fail to give opposing managers an advantage as they choose to bring on a left-hander or right-hander out of the bullpen in the later stages of a game. 

After looking further into the move made by the Braves on Monday, it benefits all parties involved.

The Braves will be able to get the best out of their two versatile infielders and will have a plan at any infield position moving forward, while Francisco will have a better chance to contribute to the lineup in Milwaukee with the release of Alex Gonzalez that made Monday's trade possible. 

What do you think of the trade made by the Braves on Monday?

Comment below or leave me a comment on Twitter, @JTansey90.  

All statistics obtained from baseball-reference.com.

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