The Astros have been rumored to be listening on Evan Gattis, so here is a way to still add Edwin Encarnacion if the price drops.
Though Astros owner Jim Crane recently stated the team is probably done making big moves, I wouldn’t be so quick to remove that possibility from the table. In fact, there is a pair of big moves the team could make to finish out its winter shopping list.
Despite recently adding slugger Carlos Beltran, the Astros could still sign Edwin Encarnacion. To ensure there are plenty of at-bats for both of them, they can trade Evan Gattis for pitching. Kill two birds with one stone.
The Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks are both open to trading starting pitching, and it so happens that both are looking for catching help. With the Astros having two starting-caliber catchers and a need in the rotation, the fit seems perfect. Even though the Rays just signed catcher Wilson Ramos, Ramos is still rehabbing from a torn ACL and will need at-bats at DH once he returns, leaving them plenty of room for Gattis.
Take a listen to Talking Stros previewing the winter meetings. They were also joined bu McCullers, Wagner, and Bill Brown.
Is Gattis really available?
Gattis is still relatively young at age 30 and is not eligible for free agency until 2019. The team on the other end of the deal would be getting a power-hitting catcher in the prime of his career, which carries quite a bit of value.
Obviously, the Astros would need to include more than Gattis, but they can give up less minor league talent if Gattis is added. They may give up a top prospect or two, depending on which pitcher they acquire, but they won’t have to gut the farm system to do it. This would make losing a first round pick to sign Encarnacion a little easier.
As CTH’s Eric Huysman pointed out, Encarnacion’s agent may have overplayed his hand. Many potential suitors have signed other players, leaving a smaller market and less leverage. If the Astros can get Encarnacion more cheaply (say for $60 million over three years), there’s no reason they can’t pull the trigger on a deal.
Rangers lost another player.
But arguably the biggest reason for Astros GM Jeff Luhnow to sign Encarnacion at this point is to keep him from the Texas Rangers. The in-state rivals have lost Ian Desmond, Mitch Moreland, and Beltran to free agency, and with the team gaining a compensatory draft pick for losing Desmond, they might be more willing to part with their own pick to sign Encarnacion.
The Rangers may be saying they don’t have the money, but frankly, I don’t buy it. The team’s 2016 opening day payroll was $161.2 million, and that was before adding Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy. The team’s current estimated 2017 opening day payroll is $128.2 million. GM Jon Daniels is in a position to strike, and I firmly believe he will.
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With Encarnacion’s market shrinking, the time is right for Luhnow to beat Daniels to the punch and take the Rangers’ best option for adding instant offense off the table. Even if Daniels really does not intend to make a run at Encarnacion, the Astros can still benefit by further strengthening an already potent lineup.
Obviously, such a move would require some extra work. The Astros would need to add a backup catcher, but there is no shortage of those on the free agent market. Encarnacion could split time at first base and DH, while Beltran could split between left field and DH. Yulieski Gurriel might end up having to play both first base and left field, but it’s certainly doable.
The Astros would essentially be replacing Gattis with Encarnacion in the lineup, which is clearly an upgrade despite Gattis’ strong 2016 season. By doing so, they can add a No. 2 or 3 starter to the rotation and not give up half of their top 10 prospects. The two moves, made in conjunction with each other, would be bold and somewhat unexpected. And that’s a perfect way for Luhnow to cap off an incredible offseason.
***Stats from Baseball-Reference***