Evan Gattis Holds More Trade Value Than You’d Think
The Houston Astros continued an active offseason over the weekend by agreeing to a one-year, $16 million deal with Carlos Beltran. This signing is significant for the obvious reasons but also because pairing Beltran with Brian McCann means the presence of catcher/designated hitter Evan Gattis is somewhat redundant.
That’s why Houston is making the right-handed slugger available for trade entering the 2016 Winter Meetings, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe.
At first glance, Gattis seems like just a power bat destined to occupy a team's designated hitter spot for 140 or 150 games per season, but he's more than that, and other teams should be inquiring about him.
That Power, Though
Gattis has become more than just a hitter who can slug home runs, but it’s the most obvious characteristic of his game. Since debuting in 2013, he’s never hit fewer than 21 homers in a single season.
Actually, his home-run production has increased in each of the four years he’s been in the big leagues, culminating with a career-high 32 in 2016.
His .463 slugging percentage in 2015 with Houston was aided by 11 triples, and because he’s only stolen two bases in four seasons, it’s safe to say that was an anomaly. He didn’t hit a single three-bagger last year, yet his slugging percentage increased to .508 thanks to a rise in homers.
Gattis’ Isolated Slugging Percentage (ISO) checked in at .257 for '16. That was a new career-high, and it would've also ranked 13th in baseball among qualified hitters, according to FanGraphs.
Improved Plate Discipline
In his rookie campaign with the Atlanta Braves, Gattis quickly built up a reputation of being a free-swinger -- that's what happens when you post a 55.3% swing rate and 12.2% swinging strike rate.
However, his year-by-year progression with regard to plate discipline has been trending in the right direction, and significantly:
His overall contact rate has slightly decreased but in the right situation. He's chasing fewer balls out of the strike zone (O-Swing%), so it only makes sense to see his contact rate drop on those types of pitches.
Despite swinging at fewer pitches in the strike zone (Z-Swing%), his contact rate has held steady. While a career-high strikeout rate of 25.5% isn't the best, Gattis watched his walk rate increase from a career-low 5% in 2015 to an all-time high in 2016 (8.6%).
Because he just finished his age-29 season, it seems a little late for Gattis to be making these adjustments, but don't forget that he hasn't been in in the big leagues very long -- he didn't debut with Atlanta until he was 26 years old. So, it's not crazy to see him go through this progression and start putting it all together now.
More Lineup Flexibility Than Your Average Power Hitter
In his first season with Houston, the slugger was used mostly as a designated hitter, a role he occupied in 136 of the 147 games he started (the other 11 were in left field). Due to team need, he returned to donning the tools of ignorance for 55 of the 128 games he appeared in last year and wasn't too much of a defensive liability.
So, interested teams shouldn't be viewing him as solely a designated hitter. Obviously, staying in the American League makes more sense, but there are reasons for National League teams to kick the tires on a potential trade.
With regard to compensation, Gattis holds incredible value. FanGraphs calculates that his 2.6 fWAR campaign from last year was worth $20.7 million. Gattis made just $3.2 million in '16 and is due to make $5.2 million next season.
Another productive year will lead to a raise in arbitration prior to 2018, but this kind of offensive production -- especially at catcher -- doesn't come that cheap very often.
Those who inquire for his services get the added bonus of having him under team control for the next two years before he's slated to hit free agency as a 31-year-old. An organization could conceivably get two of Gattis' best overall performances for a fraction of the cost it'd take to land a player with a similar profile in free agency.
There haven't been any teams with a reported interest in Gattis yet, but it'll be interesting to see if Houston uses him as part of a bigger package for yet another big splash. Team owner Tim Crane recently said the organization has made their big moves, but team president Reid Ryan also recently said the Astros are still missing an ace for the starting rotation.
Either these two are not on the same page, or Crane was doing some posturing. We'll go with the latter because that's more fun.
It would give either team a legitimate right-handed power threat in the middle of their respective lineups, and his contract situation is favorable enough that they could eventually flip him next summer at the trade deadline, or even next winter if the situation calls for such a move.
The Astros have been aggressive in upgrading their offense, and it'd be shocking to not see Gattis involved in a package for one of these two young pitchers if they're really serious about getting the ace their pitching staff needs.