Ed. note: Click here to see Rob’s recaps of the other major trades from the Great Teardown.
The Braves continued their sell-off in the offseason of 2015 with a piece that they didn’t necessarily have to trade. Evan Gattis was under team control for 3 more seasons, was 27 and had only finished his second professional season, and was currently playing a position they had no replacement at (and still don’t). But with the concern over his ability to stay at the position long-term, his attractiveness to an AL team because of the DH, his favorable salary, and his best years being within a window that the Braves would not be competitive, the Braves decided to trade him to the Houston Astros along with James Hoyt for Mike Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz, and Andrew Thuman.
Who We Gave Up:
Evan Gattis – El Oso Blanco has a unique story. With a past that included a retirement from baseball, working as a janitor, living in a hostel, and bouts with depression, The White Bear returned to returned to baseball at 24 when he was drafted by the Braves in the 23rd round. He made it through the minor league system fairly quickly, and made the Braves’ Opening Day roster in 2013. His beginning was the stuff of folk heroes: his second at bat was a home run off Roy Halladay, and he won the NL Rookie of the Year in April.
Gattis averaged an OPS near .800 during his two seasons in Atlanta. He’s a bit of an all-or-nothing player with a low batting average and light-tower power. His ISO was the highest on the team during his time, and his power has only improved hitting in front of the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park. The Braves used him primarily as a catcher in his second season with Atlanta, but Houston did not use him behind the plate at all in 2015 and only used him there about one-third of the time in 2016. He has primarily been used at a DH, but has played some corner outfield as well.
James Hoyt – Hoyt was a non-prospect sent to balance the scales in the deal. He was 27 at the time, and was not considered a piece in Atlanta’s future. He pitched in middle relief for Houston in 2016, and he’s pretty much just a guy. If he keeps this up, he might become Brandon Cunniff.
Who We Received:
Rio Ruiz – One of the few position players we took back in deals in that offseason, Ruiz has progressed through the minor league system very quickly. He was traded after putting in a strong season at A+ for Houston, so the Braves put him in AA as a 21 year old. He had an inconsistent and very slow start, and while he finished the season strong, he still ended up with a .229/.331/.318 line in 484 PAs. Nonetheless, Atlanta saw something in his finish to once again promote him and make him one of the youngest players at that level. He didn’t disappoint as he put up a .271/.355/.400 line in a full AAA season, earning himself a cup of coffee with Atlanta.
Ruiz projects to spend some time in Atlanta next year, and even has the potential to win at least the left-handed side of the starting job at 3B. He seems to have responded well to commands to get in shape, and the Braves clearly see something in him that isn’t always reflected in his waist line or slash line. And as it stands right now, he’s continuing to make strides and could be an everyday player in Atlanta. As of now, he’s the best-performing position player in the trades we made that offseason.
Mike Foltynewicz – What’s not to love? 6’4′, throws 98, and appears to have the stamina and stuff to be a top line starter. But it’s not all wine and roses. Folty has been appearing in major league games since 2014, and as he heads into his age-25 season, there are still question marks about his ability to be a frontline starter. His 2016 season saw him make great strides on the mound (4.31 ERA, 8.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9), but he still has periods of ineffectiveness, and when his fastball doesn’t have any movement, he can be hit hard (9.1 H/9). With that said, his age-24 season saw improvements to his strikeout, hit, walk, and home run rates across the board, and the optimism is still there that he can be a big part of Atlanta’s future. He’s cost-controlled, has all of the tools, and if he puts it together (which could happen as early as next year), watch out.
Andrew Thurman – Thurman had no success in Atlanta. Poor fella was hit hard at every level in the system other than A+, and he was released this past year. Some blame his struggles on the bus crash, and admittedly, he was never the same after it. He is currently a free agent, and he may have pitched his last professional pitch.
It’s hard to give up someone like Gattis. He was under contract, had immense raw power, and he could play multiple positions — though, admittedly, he didn’t necessarily play them well. He was, however, destined to play for an AL team, and he was never going to be a full-time catcher. It might be too early to fully evaluate this trade, but if Ruiz becomes an everyday third baseman like he’s expected to be, and if Foltynewicz continues his development, and James Hoyt doesn’t turn into Waite Hoyt, then I think we come out OK in this deal. We won’t have won it, we won’t have lost it, and it would be consistent with the theme of the 2015-2016 seasons of getting younger, cheaper, and higher-ceiling players. If Folty becomes the top of the rotation starter that he seems to have the potential to be, then you’d have to put this trade into the “win” column for the Bravos.