Rumor has it that the Houston Astros have shown interest in numerous players already this young offseason. Players that can be acquired via trade or free agency such as Alex Gordon, Doug Fister, and Andrew Miller have all been linked to Crush City.
But how about Houston’s own free agents, specifically possible non-tender candidates? You know, someone like Evan Gattis, otherwise known as “El Oso Blanco.” It could come down to two similar players, Chris Carter and Gattis.
The Case for Evan Gattis
In many ways, Gattis managed to have the best season of his pro career in 2015. He did set a new career high in numerous categories such as home runs (27), RBI (88), hits (139), and most notably, triples (11). Of course, the majority of these new career-highs came from a large increase in playing time that he had in a single season with the Atlanta Braves.
Evan Gattis 2015 Spray Chart; courtesy of BaseballSavant.com
Regardless, those numbers have to be encouraging when this was technically considered a down year for the slugger. It is also possible that Gattis was adjusting to the increase of playing time, essentially from a bench role with the Atlanta Braves to almost every day with the Astros. So the possibility of improvement from Gattis is real, even if the odds aren’t great. The thought of Gattis fully adjusted to the role of full-time duty while recovering some of his effectiveness with Atlanta from 2013-14 has to be tempting to the Astros.
And don’t forget that the Astros did trade three well-regarded prospects (Rio Ruiz, Mike Foltynewicz, and Andrew Thurman) to the Braves mainly for Gattis’ services. And Gattis is still under control till for the foreseeable future. While crazier things have happened in baseball, it remains unlikely that general manager Jeff Luhnow is willing to let Gattis go after just one season in Houston.
The Case Against Evan Gattis
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Even though the Houston Astros bearded slugger set many career-highs, he wasn’t exactly the most efficient player on the roster. For instance, Gattis finished the 2015 season with a 99 wRC+, which is a hair below average. His .317 wOBA also falls between below average and average. A clutch rating of -1.60. Heck, even his WAR was a 0.0. In other words, advanced statistics is not exactly painting a flattering picture of Gattis’ production in 2015.
Another issue to be mindful when considering that the Astros still have long-term decisions to make regarding similar hitters in Luis Valbuena and Chris Carter. Valbuena and Carter had their own share of struggles in 2015 but were statistically better than Gattis. And with the organization valuing advanced statistics highly then that could potentially lead to Gattis being the odd man out going forward. According to Fangraphs Steamer projections, Gattis is only projected to finish with a 0.6 WAR and 106 wRC+ in 2016, which are only slight increases from his 2015 statistics.
The issue of his 2016 salary also comes into play in the Astros upcoming plans. According to an Astros offseason outlook report from MLBtraderumors.com, Gattis’ projected salary in 2016 is expected to be around $3.4 million. If that ends up being truly the case, then the Astros front office may have to determine whether Gattis’ projected production is worth the speculated raise in salary. With other areas of the club needing improvements, it is possible that they save money by non-tendering a player or two who are due significant raise compared to their 2015 salary.
Let’s not forget that quite a few of the Astros top hitting prospects are starting to knock on the door for a major league promotion. Now is the time to determine if Gattis fits into the Astros plan for 2016 and beyond. Of course, Gattis still has two more arbitration years before he hits the open market which gives the Astros plenty of time to come to a long-term decision before giving him a new contract. But with the Astros seeing Gattis in a full-time role up close, their opinion of his long-term usefulness may have changed since the time the organization acquired him last winter.
At the end of the day “El Oso Blanco” provided what the Astros needed in 2015: Power, power, followed by more power. He even helped the Astros win some vital games in their push for the playoffs, despite what the advanced statistics may say. But the Astros organizational needs may have changed with 2016 now on the horizon with numerous options provided to the club at the minor league and major league level. Arbitration is going to be pretty interesting this offseason for the first time in years for the Astros.
** Statistics provided by Fangraphs.com**
**Contract information provided by SportTrac.com**