There have been whispers that the Braves might explore an Evan Gattis trade. At first glance, this seems unusual. Gattis is a power hitter in an age when power is viewed as a rare commodity. He’s also cheap, under team control for a long time and in his prime. He’s proven himself with the bat for almost two full seasons in the majors and he’s proven he can handle catching duties and can play leftfield in a pinch. So why does it make sense for the Braves to explore a trade?
1) Gattis’ value has never been higher.
This season Gattis is triple-slashing .258/.310/.496. His OPS+ is 131, which basically means he’s producing 31 percent above league-average. He won’t be arbitration-eligible until after next season and he won’t be a free agent until after the 2018 season. So he’s locked up through his age 31 season. He has and is likely to be paid well under market value relative to what he has and is likely to produce. So the same reasons the Braves might want to keep him are the reasons he would be extremely attractive trade bait, basically he’s good and he’s cheap and he’s going to be cheap for a while.
2) Gattis is 27.
The data shows that baseball players peak in their late 20s. There’s some evidence to suggest players who do things like hit homeruns and strikeout a lot but don’t have a lot of other skills, and lack athleticism, tend to fade faster than those with more diverse skill sets. Gattis’ carrying tool is his power. He hits and walks just enough. But his power is why he can play everyday in the big leagues. Even this season, which has been great, he’s hitting .275 and posting an on-base percentage of .330. These are respectable but they aren’t exactly signs that he’s a great hitter for anything besides power. Plus he’s never been known as a great defender. If and when his power drops off and if and when he becomes a slightly worse hitter for average and at drawing walks, he’s going to lose value. While Gattis still has plenty left, he’s not your typical second-year player. He’s not a 22-year-old stud. He’s basically the age of a seasoned veteran. While it’s possible he still has some things to learn, he’s also fighting against the aging curve.
3) Gattis has some weaknesses.
This sort of goes back to the possibility that he could be a player who fades more quickly than others, given his skill set. Gattis doesn’t have a great hit tool, so he’s not going to post a high average. He doesn’t walk a ridiculous amount. Again, he just hits for a lot of power and does enough in those other areas to be an offensive force. And he’s not going to come close to winning any Gold Gloves nor is he going to impress on the base paths. Even if he remains a great power-hitter and a good enough all-around hitter, his best position is batter’s box. As long as the National League plays without the DH rule, weaknesses of players like Gattis will be exposed. Not that he’s incapable of playing defense. But he might have more value if he can mostly just hit and a team doesn’t have to factor in his defensive value or lack thereof.
It’s not a given that the Braves should be desperate to trade Gattis, mind you. Again, the main reasons he would be attractive in a trade are reasons for the Braves to keep him around: he’s good and he’s cheap, and likely will be for a while longer. Like with any trade possibility, it all depends on what a team gets in return. The Braves shouldn’t trade Gattis just to trade him, and I’m absolutely sure they know that. Any weaknesses or possibilities of early decline are not worth losing a good, cheap player for less than equal value over. Every player has weaknesses and you’re never certain of how a player may perform going forward. But calculating risk and reward, the Braves might be able to net quite a haul for Evan Gattis right now and fill some of their needs.