Opinion: For Any American League Team, Evan Gattis Makes Sense

Ever since Evan Gattis has emerged onto the scene as a part time catcher for the Atlanta Braves in the National League East, we have viewed him as the National League equivalent of Mike Napoli, but with the Braves now entering a rebuilding mode, could Evan Gattis be on his way to the American League? It would be a move that would make too much sense not to happen if in fact he is on the trade block.

That’s less of a possibility now than it was a few days ago after the Braves trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. With right fielder Jason Heyward having been traded to the Cardinals, Atlanta may look to make Gattis into a left fielder, with Justin Upton taking Heyward‘s place in right.

The Braves though, should still be open to trading Gattis, as his value on the trade market is arguably higher than the value of them keeping him especially with power hitting players hard to come by in the current state of baseball.

As a trade chip, Gattis offers two valuable skills which could land him with a contender: controllability and power. Gattis is in a good position with four years of his well priced contract left, meaning he can play a role in commanding his future. And even with his hitting ability limited by an aggressive approach that produces a considerably high strikeout rate for a starting position player in baseball, his power has been good enough to produce 43 home runs over his first two seasons.

The last time the Braves played Gattis in left field was in 2013. He posted a-10 Defensive Runs Saved in only 342.1 innings. He is suited to a consistent designated hitter – something the National League cannot offer him.

If the Braves were to hypothetically retain Gattis and start him in the outfield, it probably would not help his durability. Gattis has struggled with injuries as he has only appeared in 213 games over the course of 2013 and 2014.

If the Braves choose to hold on to Gattis even despite these red flags, it would be hard to blame them considering the type of player he is. The upside Gattis boasts with his power numbers makes it hard to trade him due to his uniqueness. But it would also be hard not to blame the Braves if they chose to trade Gattis instead. His defense and injury-prone game would limit his value, but his controllability and power, as previously mentioned above, would ensure a strong return of prospects or young players, and with Atlanta beginning the rebuilding process, it could be essential as well as acting as a jump start to the ensuing process.

With Russell Martin, the only really standout catcher on the open market, having inked a reasonably large contract of five years and $82 million in Toronto, and the prices for free-agent standouts like Hanley Ramirez and Nelson Cruz sure to be astronomical, it would be worth it for Atlanta to part ways with Gattis if, in fact, they received a substantial trade package in return from a National League team. But for an American League club, it would be a whole other, likely more expensive, story.

The one thing American League clubs can offer Gattis that the Braves and other National League clubs can’t is obvious: the designated hitter position on a consistent basis – a position that could limit his injuries and allow him to focus all his time on his already recognized hitting ability.

Gattis as a full-time designated hitter is a possibility. But at a time when American League clubs seem wary of employing full-time DHs, it’s more likely that Gattis‘ American League role would replicate that of Mike Napoli which occupied between 2009 and 2012 during his time as a Texas Ranger. During that time, Napoli was a part-time catcher, designated hitter and, eventually, a starting first baseman.

Gattis deserves his reputation as an iffy defensive catcher, but the 33 caught-stealing percentage are minor indications that he’s not a total achilles heel if in fact he were to take the field. Gattis also already has some major league experience at first base with the Braves and has the power bat to be a designated hitter.

If Napoli‘s injury plagued past is an indication of what Gattis could become in the American League, it should be a move both he and the Braves should be looking to make. After injuries limited Napoli to an average of 84 games as a full-time catcher between 2006 and 2008 in Texas, he averaged 119 games as a catcher, designated hitter, and first baseman between 2009 and 2012; the glory of years of Texas in the 2000’s.

The benefit of Gattis transitioning from a full-time catcher to a Napoli type of utility player could therefore be marked down to two positives. It would be easier for Gattis to stay healthy with the ability to gain rest with starts at designated hitter, and his versatility would be a means to keep him in the lineup on a regular basis.

The Atlanta Braves have the chance to gain a large return back for Gattis if in fact they choose to trade him to an American League team, and Gattis could finally evolve into the consistent, power force in the American League as a flexible, adjustable player that could split time between the field and at designated hitter.

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