It’s important to note this trade isn’t official yet. So it’s a little uncomfortable writing up an analysis, given that, who knows, something could go wrong in the physical. But, usually, those go fine, and even when they don’t, like in the case of the Matt Kemp deal, the trade might still go through anyway. So here’s what looks to be happening, in a Wednesday exchange between the Astros and the Braves:
From the Braves’ side, it’s easy enough to understand. Despite the puzzling Nick Markakis deal, the Braves aren’t thinking about 2015, and they know Gattis doesn’t profile great as a corner outfielder, so they’re giving up a piece of value now for a trio of prospects. One of the prospects is very exciting. Another has people who think very highly of him. Even the third guy might have a future. The haul’s good enough to at least temporarily distract Braves fans from the current makeup of the big-league product.
It’s the other side that’s more interesting. Not that the Braves’ side isn’t interesting, but this is the Houston Astros turning prospects into a shorter-term asset. It’s not the first time they’ve done that; last offseason, they gave up a couple pieces for Dexter Fowler. And the Astros have lately made some shorter-term decisions, so perhaps we’re observing an accelerating shift in front-office mindset. But there are a few different ways this could go. It’s not immediately clear where the Astros think they might be in eight or ten months.
Because the Braves’ side is simpler, let’s get that out of the way. In Gattis, they had a legitimate source of right-handed power, and he’s under control another four years. So, there’s pretty obvious surplus value, even if you don’t love Gattis’ potential aging curve. But, in Atlanta, he wasn’t going to catch. Nor was he going to play first base, and barring a significant change to the rules he wasn’t going to DH. It made sense for the Braves to put Gattis on the market, since he doesn’t seem like much of an outfielder. That he’s being moved isn’t a shock.
Of the pieces coming, Foltynewicz has the sex appeal. Behold:
He has big-time heat, he has functional breaking balls, and he has a changeup. Foltynewicz has the pitches of a starter. Except for the whole commanding-them part, which maybe isn’t a surprise; if Foltynewicz had better command, he’d be borderline untouchable, as a pitcher and as a prospect. Because he’s just 23, there’s time for Foltynewicz to refine his location, and the Braves will presumably give it their best shot in terms of trying to smooth him out. Yet the probability might favor that Foltynewicz will be a reliever, and he might not even be a closer depending on what his command would be in short stints. This is a classically exciting prospect and a classically risky prospect. Kiley had him seventh in the Astros’ system.
Kiley had Ruiz fifth in the Astros’ system. What he hasn’t done is hit for big power, or play a game above the California League. What he has done is control the strike zone, and been young for his level. Ruiz isn’t even 21 yet, and he just posted a .387 OBP as a steady-handed third baseman. He’s not known for his range, but his bat might even develop enough for him to work at the other corner. Ultimately, though, there’s progress yet to be observed, as Ruiz has more doubles power than home-run power. Based on the evidence I’ve found, last year Ruiz hit just one dinger the other way. The upside is that he finds power and sticks at third. The downside is that he’s a doubles-hitting first baseman. He’ll take time.
And then there’s Thurman, who Kiley ranked 21st. He’s not a nobody, but he’s definitely the relative throw-in. He’s 23, and he spent last season in Single-A, posting an ERA over 5. He fits that common low-minors mold of having inadequate command of adequate stuff. There’s at least no doubt he has the pitches to work in the majors if he more consistently figures out where to throw them.
It strikes me as a fair return for the Braves, even if they didn’t get a single sure thing. Gattis himself isn’t a sure thing, given his odd history, his injury issues, and the matter of his best position. When the Angels dealt the similar Mark Trumbo, they picked up Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. Trumbo had one fewer year of team control left, but he had established himself as a bit more durable. And the Angels seemed to come out well in that trade.
So, the Astros. Let’s review a few things we know:
- The 2015 Astros don’t project well, according to Steamer
- The 2015 Astros don’t project well, according to ZiPS
- Evan Gattis doesn’t change the above very much
- Evan Gattis is a four-year player, not a one-year player
- The Astros have Chris Carter at DH
- The Astros have Jonathan Singleton at first base
- The Astros have too many catchers
It’s complicated. This could have a few different outcomes, and I don’t know if the Astros even know yet which path they’ll take. First, let’s consider Gattis himself. Here’s the appeal:
Gattis possesses what one might refer to as “stupid power”. That’s almost his whole offensive game, since he seldom draws walks. One additional variable is that he was mostly a catcher with the Braves, and if the Astros tell him not to worry about that, his offense could improve, as it’s been demonstrated that catchers suffer a batting penalty. Yet, Gattis has been aggressive for two years, with limited contact, and that’s probably just what he is. Wilin Rosario would be one pessimistic comparison. Michael Morse and Mark Trumbo are pretty fair comparisons. Of some interest: Gattis’ discipline numbers also compare well to Jose Abreu’s. Abreu’s coming off a 165 wRC+. Which isn’t to say that Gattis and Abreu have the same hitting philosophies and skills, but there’s upside in this package, even if it’s unlikely that Gattis ever reaches that level.
The complicated issue is trying to figure out why the Astros wanted to get Gattis today. It could be, they think he can actually catch. But it’s hard for me to see him catching, at least often. If anything, he’s a third catcher, providing some flexibility. For the moment, Gattis will not be DHing ahead of Carter. If he plays first, it’s ahead of Singleton (note: or Carter plays first, and Gattis DHs, but, anyway, same idea). Singleton was bad in his cup of coffee, so maybe the Astros figure he needs more seasoning in the minors. Gattis could help now, while Singleton could come back down the road. There’s also the option of having Gattis in left field. He’s probably not good out there, and Minute Maid has an odd left-field alignment, but it also has a somewhat small left field so perhaps Gattis could be hidden there. The Astros have other potential left fielders, like Jake Marisnick, but none of them are beating the door down.
Maybe this opens the door for a Carter trade. Maybe this opens the door for a Gattis trade, in a few months or a year. One explanation that was offered for signing Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson was that relievers fetch quality pieces around the deadline. It’s a seller’s market, now that there aren’t many sellers come July. Maybe the Astros gave up prospects because they think, in a few months, they could get even better prospects.
But maybe the Astros are trying to get better. Maybe this is all simple: they’ve added guys like Gattis and Neshek and Gregerson because they want to be a decent baseball team. For 2015, Gattis should be better than Singleton, and if Singleton takes a step forward, he’s not exactly blocked. Maybe this is about making the product more watchable. Maybe this is about getting a long-term piece now, even if it’s maybe a year early. Gattis’ power should last the length of his team control.
And then there’s the really exciting option: what if the Astros aren’t finished trying to improve? What if they go out and land a high-quality starting pitcher, as they’ve been linked to before? Such a pitcher should be able to fit in the budget, and while maybe the Astros wouldn’t be able to convince Max Scherzer to join the team, what if the Astros placed a call to Ruben Amaro? Or, what if they tried for James Shields? The Astros have two pretty good starters now, but very limited depth, so any impact acquisition would make a real substantial difference. If the Astros actually landed a big arm, the rest of the division would notice. Area fans would certainly notice. The Astros have been making progress toward contention, with generally more ups than downs. And maybe now they make a splash, similar, in a way, to the Cubs signing Jon Lester.
I don’t know. I can’t know, from here. All I can know is the Astros might have multiple plans involving Evan Gattis. They might not even know where they’re going, since there are only so many things they can control. But if the Astros do make a splash, don’t be too surprised. It’s something they’ve been preparing for. And this rebuild is approaching completion.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.