ATLANTA -- The writing was on the wall, but the Braves made it official Monday morning.
Atlanta traded third baseman Juan Francisco, who played 35 games for the Braves this season, to the Milwaukee Brewers for minor league left-handed pitcher Tom Keeling.
The two-player deal will send Keeling to Double-A Mississippi.
Though Francisco has served in a platoon role at third base -- even competing for the starting job outright in spring training -- this news comes as no surprise. With the Braves dealing with injury issues to their bullpen, they called up 2012 draftee Alex Wood last week and designated Francisco for assignment. Strong starts by Chris Johnson (1.0 WAR) and Ramiro Pena (0.8 WAR) made the free-swinging slugger expendable.
That the organization received a lefty reliever in return is no accident, either.
With left-handed setup men Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty relegated to the disabled list due to Tommy John surgeries, the search for a southpaw (even a minor league one) was all but assumed. Keeling, 25, has logged 17 innings at Double-A Huntsville this season, striking out 19 batters with a 3.18 ERA.
The assumption here is that Wood, who pitched well in his MLB debut on Thursday against the Blue Jays, will continue to man the seven-man bullpen along with Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, Cory Gearrin, Anthony Varvarro, Jordan Walden and David Carpenter. But, as the saying goes, you can never have enough pitching depth. Keeling, if anything, provides yet another backup plan.
The Braves acquired Francisco during spring training in 2012, using him sporadically as a pinch hitter and backup for Chipper Jones. Before the Justin Upton deal that brought Johnson over from Arizona, he was presumed to be the No. 1 option to replace Jones.
But while Francisco provided plenty of power throughout his minor league stints and, to a lesser degree, at the big-league level, his other shortcomings held him back from keeping Johnson out of the lineup. In his first 500 career plate appearances, Francisco hit 19 home runs with a .730 OPS. But his left-handed bat strikes out more than 32 percent of the time, he's dealt with ongoing weight issues and his defense leaves plenty to be desired.Perhaps Francisco, 25, will eventually reach his potential, but he'll have to do it somewhere other than Atlanta.