ATL@WSH: Gattis' 20th homer gives Braves late lead

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If there were any doubts about the likelihood of Evan Gattis beginning the upcoming season as Atlanta's starting catcher, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez erased them when he informed Gattis of this plan during a recent phone conversation.

"Evan is one of those guys that likes to be goal-oriented and wants to be told what his role is going to be," Gonzalez said. "We had a nice conversation, and he's getting ready to be our catcher."

While Gattis is projected to receive a majority of the playing time behind the plate, Gerald Laird might be utilized more frequently than most backup catchers. By putting Laird in the lineup a couple times a week, the Braves could minimize the wear and tear placed on Gattis' 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame over the course of the long season.

As Brian McCann missed the first six weeks of this past season recovering from shoulder surgery, Gattis took advantage of the chance to serve as Atlanta's regular catcher by proving capable of handling the defensive requirements behind the plate.

"I thought he did a terrific job," Gonzalez said. "Our pitchers, talking to [pitching coach Roger McDowell], liked throwing to Gattis. So we feel good about that."

Braves looking for veteran bat for bench

Fredi content with rotation heading into 2014

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves general manager Frank Wren compares the second day of the annual Winter Meetings to "moving day" in the golf world. In other words, he recognizes it as a day when clubs gain a better sense of where they are going to stand at the end of this four-day event.

While Wren and his staff members might have made progress in some of their pursuits on Tuesday, there was no clear indication that they were on the brink of crossing one of the items off their wish list.

"[On Monday], you're kind of feeling your way and getting a feel for what opportunities are going to progress," Wren said. "Today is the day you actually start moving things up the board. You start moving up the level of conversations. We got a little better sense of things today."

The Braves have maintained contact with Eric O'Flaherty and remain hopeful he will decide to return to Atlanta. But the Nationals and Yankees are among the other teams that have continued to show interest in O'Flaherty, who is expected to return from Tommy John surgery during the latter part of May.

In their attempt to strengthen their bench, the Braves primarily are focusing on offensive capability, and it appears Eric Chavez could be the top target on the free-agent market. 

Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez said they would like a player capable of providing the same kind of leadership Eric Hinske provided while strengthening Atlanta's bench and clubhouse atmosphere from 2010-12.

Chavez hit .281 with nine home runs and an .810 OPS in 254 plate appearances with the D-backs in 2013. In limited duty as a pinch-hitter, he batted .313 (5-for-16). The 36-year-old veteran, who is one of former Braves pitcher Tim Hudson's closest friends, has always been recognized as a popular player among teammates.  

The Braves have expressed some interest in Jerry Hairston Jr., who has proven to be a valuable clubhouse presence throughout his career. But the 37-year-old veteran hit .211 in 226 plate appearances for the Dodgers this past season.

Hairston underwent hip surgery late in the 2012 season and then battled a variety of injuries in 2013 before being left off Los Angeles' postseason roster. The odds of Hairston ending up in Atlanta are also hindered by the fact that he said his late-season struggles were a product of him being primarily used as a pinch-hitter -- which would be his primary role with the Braves.

There has been some speculation that the Braves are interested in Raul Ibanez, who hit .242 with 29 home runs and a .793 OPS for the Mariners this past season. But for now, it does not appear the club is aggressively pursuing the 41-year-old veteran.

Worth noting

• Gonzalez said he is planning to enter the 2014 season with Jason Heyward as his leadoff hitter. Heyward hit .345 with a 1.005 OPS in the 23 games he played between the time he moved into the leadoff role on July 27 and fractured his jaw on Aug. 21.

• Multiple scouts have said the Braves might have found a gem when they signed right-handed reliever Luis Vasquez as a Minor League free agent on Nov. 5. Vasquez recorded 46 strikeouts and issued 28 walks while producing a 2.52 ERA in the 25 combined appearances he made for Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Albuquerque this past season. Vasquez, who has continued to impress in the Dominican Winter League, has a sidearm delivery and a fastball that rests between 92-95 mph.