I’ve been reading a lot lately about Nuclear Semiotics, which is super fascinating stuff. It’s essentially a bunch of really smart people trying to figure out how to warn people 10,000 years from now to avoid the nuclear waste we are burying right now. The trick is, of course, those people (or, you know, humanoid organisms) will not be speaking English or any other modern language. So what do you do? Don’t ask me, I’m just some dude on the internet. One of the more abstract suggestions (not quite as abstract as ray-cats, but pretty good) is to develop a “Nuclear Priesthood”, an order of individuals whose cause would be passed down generation to generation to give vague, mystifying warnings about the dangers of radiation. My tenuous allegory here is this: if there were such a thing as a Baseball Priesthood, an order of individuals proselytizing the important facets of the game to Alexander Cartwright and Jeff Luhnow alike, one of their sermons doubtlessly would have contained the moral: you need dudes who can hit the dang ball.
For a team that is often lionized and criticized for its unconventional approach (usually by the same person, in the same sentence), the off-season priority for the Houston Astros appears to be banally simple: get some dudes who can hit the dang ball. Earlier this offseason they acquired Jed Lowrie and Hank Conger, weak-to-middling defensive players at premium defensive positions, who can hit the dang ball. And today, reports suggest they’ve also acquired Evan Gattis, who is built like a pot-bellied Colossus of Rhodes, and fields how you would expect a husky, anthropomorphic version of a 100 foot tall bronze statue to field. That, however, does not seem of critical importance right now.
The 2014 Houston Astros were last in both leagues in Base Runs, by a lot. And while no one expects the Astros to compete this coming year, Luhnow is probably feeling some pressure to start to steer the franchise toward .500, hence: Lowrie, Conger, and Gattis. Gattis essentially gives the team a second Chris Carter, a powerful slugger with a sub-.320 OBP who is awful in the field. They’re limited players, to be sure. But not as limited as Robbie Grossman and Alex Presley, who combined for more than 600 PA for the Astros last year.
The big question mark around this deal, however, will likely be how much the Astros paid for Gattis. Mike Foltynewicz and Rio Ruiz were both on last year’s Astros Top 10 Prospects list at both Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs. Foltynewicz gets understandable praise for his ability to hit triple-digits, however there seems to be concern about his overall command and ability to start. It is safe to assume the Houston Astros know more about him in general, and in specific relation to those two factors, than anyone else. The consensus on Ruiz seems to be that he can absolutely hit, but may have to move over to first base, where his bat would be much less valuable. Andrew Thurman is believed to be fairly sure to stick as a starter, but has a low ceiling. In reality then, it seems as if the Astros traded three flawed prospects for one flawed major leaguer.
Still, trading two intriguing starting pitching prospects is an odd look for a rebuilding team, so why would the Astros do it? The answer is likely Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. Keuchel and McHugh are both young, both under team control for a while, and surprisingly great in the rotation last year. Keuchel seems the more legitimate of the two, as he lowered his home-run and walk rates, but not astronomically compared to what he did in 2013. McHugh may come down to earth this upcoming season, although the Astros cannot really be blamed for betting on the guy who has succeeded in the Majors over prospects Foltynewicz and Thurman.
Gattis will likely be around a 3 WAR player next season, which will probably not be the difference between the Astros making the postseason or not, but he will make the Astros better. If Foltynewicz can stay in a major league rotation, and Ruiz turns into a serviceable third baseman, then the Astros have probably lost this deal (especially since the Astros’ third-base situation is Matt “65 OPS+ Last Year” Dominguez), but the chances of those things happening seem murky at best.Next post: So Long, El Oso Blanco
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