Thursday, January 15, 2015

Astros' Acquisition of Evan Gattis Confirmed

(Not Hank) briefly reported earlier that the Astros had stealthily acquired Evan Gattis from the Braves.  As a trade, it is entirely logical, and only required an 8 week incubation period for all parties to see sense, and consulate it.  You may recall the Constable earlier reporting on a potential trade that seemed like Gattis-and-every-ugly-contract-in-the-Braves-organisation for all of Houston's top prospects, and cash.  Or something.  This trade seems fair, and much less one sided than the previous reports indicated.

After (Not Hank) reported the trade, he was careful to indicate that it had not been formally announced by the teams.  There was supposedly a hold-up in the physicals - seemingly with Gattis' knee and back - but recently the trade has been officially announced.  The Astros get Evan Gattis (with his 4 years of control, one at league minimum) and minor-league righty-reliever James Hoyt in exchange for the previously reported trio of Mike Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz and Andrew Thurman.

And, apparently, not Chris Johnson and/or B.J. Upton.  Hoo-ray!!

(Not Hank) earlier linked to a fabulous story about Evan Gattis, and how he nearly got lost on his way to the Bigs.  The article also outlines his tools well - power and arm - and tells some great stories about how hard he hits baseballs.  James Hoyt has a similar story - he was undrafted out of college, worked on yachts for a while, bounced around Indy Ball, then wound up in Mexico, where he was noticed by a Braves scout.  At 27, and having spent his age-27 season in AA and AAA, he is certainly not on the normal developmental path, but he pumps gas in the mid-90's and apparently has a plus-slider.  So he seems like a great lottery ticket to get as a throw-in for a trade of this magnitude.

But Gattis is the big piece here, and he is where this trade lives or dies.  In one fell swoop, the Astros managed to patch one of their offensive Black Holes from 2014.  Which hole, of course, is a potential bone of contention.  He seems destined to start playing in Left Field.  This would allow Singleton to have more development time at first, while providing insurance in case Singleton can't get his contact issues under control, and potentially forming the basics of a future platoon (with Carter mixed in there somewhere) with Singleton in case they want to sit him against lefties.  

But, remember Gattis' other tool - his arm.  One of the comments guys in (Not Hank)'s earlier article wondered about the possibility of a lash at third base, and this probably shouldn't be discounted.  Dominguez will nearly certainly get a half-season or so to show what he has and potentially seal his place as a big-league player, but if he cannot make it all happen, the medium- or longer-term plan could well be to try Gattis at the hot corner.

And before y'all laugh (or wince, or cry, or whatever), part of the benefit of having a late-blooming bat without a position is the number of flexible options that are available.  Which Jeff Sullivan points out in this post.  According to Sullivan, the flexibility does not extend just to positions, but to various other permutations and combinations, including the possibility of future trades of Gattis, trades of other players, and so forth.  With a very secretive Astros front office, who knows whether this trade exists as a one-off, or whether it is part of a Padres-style rebuild, where multiple prospects are combined to mail off to rebuilding teams in exchange for Major League pieces.

Anyhow, before we get too wordy, lets look at the pieces coming the way of the Astros.  As mentioned above, James Hoyt is an older righty reliever with a fastball-slider combination.  He finished 2014 in AAA Gwinnett in the International League with a 5.46 ERA over 24 appearances and 28 innings, sporting a 2.43 K/BB ratio.  He was the most hittable in those 28 innings in AAA than before in his career by a long shot (12.2 H/9, next highest 8.2 in independant ball in 2011), and was also the most homer-prone (1.3 HR/9), again the highest of his career (1.0 HR/9, again in independent ball in 2011).  

In between, he has been pretty decent for an older prospect - he finished 2013 in AA Mississippi for the first time, throwing 32.2 innings with a 2.48 ERA, 2.54 K/BB, 4.7 H/9 and 0.3 HR/9.  Pretty decent figures - possibly prone to regression one would think - but then he backed that up with a better AA campaign in the early part of 2014: 1.14 ERA in 31.2IP, 4.3 K/BB, 5.4 H/9, 0.3 HR/9.  His career K/9 is 11.7 against a 4.4 BB/9 (but that includes independent ball and the Mexican Leagues), with his AA figures the most impressive from a ratio perspective (10.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9).  These rates have been remarkably consistent across all levels.

But, of course, the prize of this deal is Evan Gattis, who is 28 and stands 6-4.  His major league career triple-slash is a robust .253/.304/.487, and given his unusual path to the majors, it could be argued that he has not yet reached his ceiling.  This argument would be advanced on the basis that he was working on ski-lifts rather than taking baseball hacks in cages for a few years, and therefore has seen less in the way of repetitions than most players his age.  

Gattis possesses mild platoon splits (.241/.297/.469 against righties versus .295/.328/.548 against lefties), and interesting has played better at the Ted than on the road (.828 OPS versus .759).  He also seems to hit better prior to the All Star Break (.888 first half OPS versus .675 second half), so again there is potential for improvement there.  Time behind the dish will not help that much, but I doubt that the Astros plan to stash him there unless it is an emergency.  

So I would think that the Astros see Gattis at worthy of acquiring not only because of his current play, but also because of what he may become if things all break right.  His talent with the bat is undeniable, and if there is a controllable and available player in the Majors right now that sending away two legit prospects and a lottery ticket is worth a flier on, then Gattis is likely the guy.

But the major reason that I like this trade is what it represents.  This is another sign that the Astros have moved on from the talent acquisition phase of the rebuild to the talent accumulation phase of the rebuild.  This is now about trading multiple guys for talent - like they did with Fowler last year.  Contrast this to the Red Sox, who have multiple useful slightly-above-replacement-level players, but nowhere to stash them all.  They only have room for three outfielders, after all, and by my count, they have six or seven of them all likely to be needing at-bats in the upcoming season.

Finally, remember the ZiPS projection for the Astros in 2015??  There is one donut sitting there in left field, right beside Robbie Grossman's name.  Well, scratch that out and put whatever projection you think Gattis will be worth this year.  ZiPS says 2, Steamer says 1.2, but I am happy to take the "over" on both of those.  Mostly, because neither Steamer nor ZiPS have seen an Evan Gattis before, and they are likely underselling him on the basis of his late arrival to professional baseball, and his likely move out from behind the plate.  

Over the next few days, unless one of the other AC writers beats be to it, I may examine the guys going to Atlanta.  But I also think that (Not Hank) covers that one really well, so I doubt I will add much insight to what he has already said.  Which was: Folty seems hittable but has tools, Ruiz has hit but scouts see potential for problems, and Thurman looks like a throw-in at this point.

Feel free to discuss further below.