Last July the Atlanta Braves made a move that many saw as risky and few were excited about. Frank Wren decided that the best path for the franchise was to trade away the young, swagger-filled shortstop Yunel Escobar to the Toronto Blue Jays for the seasoned veteran Alex Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was putting up career numbers in Toronto at the time of the trade but most Braves fans understood the incredible amount of potential that Escobar held. It didn't take long for people in the baseball community to realize that this was another shoulder shrugging move by Wren that put the Braves in an excellent position to contend for the National League East title.
In this 2011 season, Alex Gonzalez has dazzled at shortstop, making plays that light up the Buehrle meter night in and night out on Baseball Tonight. These plays not only solidify the fact that Gonzalez is one of the premier shortstops in Major League Baseball, but it is also a reason why the Braves have enjoyed early success this season.
I had a coach once tell me, "You can tell when you have an elite player because they make everyone else on the field better." Alex Gonzalez is a guy who makes the rest of the team better. The Braves pitching staff boasts the lowest ERA in the National League up to this point and the comfort of having a premier shortstop behind you must play a role in that.
Braves fans were thrilled with the acquisition of Dan Uggla but there were also many who saw him as a Brooks Conrad on steroids. Let's face it, coming into this season Uggla's defense was beyond terrible but his stellar play in the field this year has people starting to believe his fate has turned; let's just hope he starts hitting. It is evident that Gonzalez has rubbed off on other infielders.
Gonzalez strained his groin making a spectacular play in the hole against the Phillies on Sunday night and was out of the lineup on Tuesday. His absence was immediately noticed as the Braves committed three errors in the first two innings of the ballgame. It wasn't coincidence that these errors were committed on the night Gonzalez was out of the lineup, he really does make the Braves go.