Astros Trade for Slugger but Don't Really Improve the Team

You're in a casino in Vegas, one on the Strip, something like Planet Hollywood. And you're at one of the $15 minimum blackjack tables. The dealer's cute, the table's friendly enough, everyone's getting along and joking and having a good time. You're only betting the minimum, but that's no big deal. The chips in front of you are slowly piling up and you're building up a slight profit for the night, making up for what you've lost on various other activities during the day.

That's when the dude shows up. You know, the smart guy with the bro-hipster facial thing going on who thinks he knows everything about blackjack and has his own system worked out. He's kind of drunk but he thinks he's in total control. He keeps bragging about this system of his, but he loses hand after hand and he starts getting flustered. He bitches at the lady on his right for not playing properly and starts loudly contradicting the advice the dealer gives out because she's just a stooge of the casino and if you'll just listen to him you'll hit it big.

Eventually the dude's shouting at the woman and calling the dealer an idiot and the guy to the dude's left has enough and tells the dude to shut up and there's more shouting and then security shows up and escorts the dude away. But the vibe's gone. The dealer's still cute but not flirting. The mood's down. And you start losing and then you just get up and leave before all of your money's gone.

The Houston Astros think they're the smartest team in baseball. They've supposedly figured out angles no one's ever thought of and they're going to build a baseball dynasty derived in part from strategy used to play blackjack. But they're approaching the slightly-drunk-dude-with-the bro-hipster-facial-hair status. They may think their system is the best in the world, but they've yet to actually prove it can do anything besides get big write-ups and cover stories in national sports magazines.

On Wednesday the Astros traded for Atlanta Braves slugger Evan Gattis. Gattis is a 28-year-old injury-prone nominal catcher who plays no defensive position well, who strikes out an awful lot, has a so-so slash line, but really, really, really, really hits for a lot of power. He's another version of Chris Carter except he doesn't walk as much as Carter. It's an okay pick-up in that it makes the Astros one of the best power-hitting teams in baseball. If they can find a way to get him in the lineup.

In exchange the Astros gave up two top prospects, 23-year-old fireballer Mike Foltynewicz who has been known to hit triple digits on the radar gun, and 20-year-old third baseman Rio Ruiz who is still in the lower tiers of the minors. The Astros also traded pitcher Andrew Thurman. Ruiz was not going to help the squad this season, but the loss of Foltynewicz stings because the pitching staff still isn't the greatest in the world and a guy who can fire it in at 100-plus an hour just shouldn't be dumped for just anybody. And Gattis, HR power aside, is really nothing more than just an anybody.

The Astros appear to be collecting catchers like the Texans used to collect tight ends. There are currently five on the roster, though Max Stassi will probably spend the year in the minors and Carlos Corporan appears to be on his way to the Rangers. That still leaves the Astros with Jason Castro, Hank Conger, and now Gattis. And Gattis is also another Chris Carter-type who can hit homers but, dear god, you don't really want him out on the field with a glove on his hand because that's a recipe for sure disaster.

Maybe the Astros are trying to do what the Oakland A's did last season, and that's make the playoffs by seemingly playing three catchers everyday (the A's used Derrick Norris as the primary catcher, stuck Stephen Vogt in the outfield, and played John Jaso at DH). But the A's were dealing with injuries and midseason trades and, frankly, Billy Beane's proven many times over that he's as smart as the Astros front office claims to be, so it's always possible he set that whole thing up to troll the Astros while he remakes and rebuilds his team yet again.

The Astros will be a better team this year. The bullpen has been improved. A.J Hinch by default has to be a better manager than Bo Porter. The everyday lineup includes Jose Altuve, George Springer, Jed Lowrie, and Dexter Fowler (for now, but he may be traded). But the team's not going to compete this season, and trading players like Foltynewicz and Ruiz for the likes of Evan Gattis just appears to be the move of a team trying to show it's as smartly run as the A's.

It's likely the Astros aren't done with the trades or free agent signings. The team that comes out of spring training might look a whole lot different than how it looks now, but damn, if Evan Gattis is one of the Astros answers to years past, then one really has to wonder just what questions the Astros have been asking. Then again, who am I to say anything? I'm just guy sitting at the blackjack table, flirting with the dealer, working to make the small profit and hoping the vibe's not destroyed by some drunk dude with a bro-hipster facial style who's got a system.


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