The Astros first began targeting Evan Gattis last summer. And when they asked about Gattis again early in the offseason, the Braves came back with an interesting response, according to major-league sources:
Maybe, if you take B.J. Upton, too.
The talks were wide-ranging, but the Braves asked for center fielder Dexter Fowler and a pitching prospect at one point and also inquired about catcher Carlos Corporan, sources said.
Rosenthal goes on to say that talks fell apart because of the Upton stipulation. The outfielder is owed just over $46 million through 2017. The deal would have unloaded the prospective $9 million Dexter Fowler could make in arbitration, but still would have eaten a quarter of Houston's available budget room for 2015 and beyond.
It's that last part which illustrates Houston's bigger strategy this winter.
Why target Gattis over Justin Upton, who's eminently more gettable? It may all come down to team control.
Hot Stove Talk
Hot Stove Talk
Look at all of Houston's moves in the past couple of seasons. With the exception of some mid-tier bullpen deals, every move the Astros have made is with an eye to the future. Hank Conger not only gives Houston a pitch-framing monster, he also has four years of team control left.
Gattis, too, would have had four years of control left. Upton, of course, only has one. Fowler only has one, though the Astros may extend him because he exchanged BFF bracelets with George Springer.
Houston's building a window of contention. This current group of young players, built around Jose Altuve, Springer and Jon Singleton, will be joined shortly by Carlos Correa, Colin Moran and others. They'll all be hitting their primes at about the same time, putting them in a great spot to contend for a three- or four-year window.
At the same time, pitchers like Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh will be on the tail end of their primes but still in a great spot to be productive players. Pair them with Mark Appel and some of Houston's developed pitching depth and the Astros could have plenty of players hitting right at the same time.
That's why Jason Castro is in trade talks. He's likely just outside that window. I'm sure the Astros would like to hold onto him, but if the right deal comes along, so they can layer team control on top of roster flexibility.
It's why B.J. Upton's deal would be so odious. They could carry it, but it might limit them in adding pieces to the roster two years from now, when that window could be opening wide.
It's why signing a closer like David Robertson or Andrew Miller now makes sense. The Astros wouldn't be primarily signing either for the upcoming season. They'd be signed for 2016 or 2017.
It's also why a guy like Chris Carter may be deemed expendable, as Rosenthal's report suggests. By adding Gattis and removing Carter, Houston can add control into that window. Much like Castro, Carter's a nice piece who may not be on the upside of his career when the rest of Houston's core takes off.
Playing the long con is dangerous. Injuries and ineffectiveness can scuttle the best-laid plans. But, through this discussion and the other moves and rumors Houston's been involved in this winter, we can see the direction Jeff Luhnow and Co. want to take the club in next season and beyond.
It's still about roster building. This is a team they want to be better for 2015, but it's also about building that contention window.