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Evan Gattis trade: comeback kid brings power, wisdom, courage to Astros

Evan Gattis' story is a pretty amazing one, and it is so before you get to 43 homers he's hit in his first two seasons in the Majors.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

A kid from a broken home who never quite figures out how to put himself back together. Anxiety, depression, and the fear of failure lead to substance abuse. A once-bright prospect goes un-drafted. The story could have ended there, forgettably.

Instead, there's rehab and a halfway house, months of healing leading to a stint in Junior College. He injured his knee and, growing weary and depressed again, and quit the game he once loved. The story could have ended there, ephemerally.

Odd jobs follow, more depression, sleepless nights, and thoughts of suicide at the worst of it. He spends several days at a psychiatric ward and is officially diagnosed with anxiety disorder and clinical depression. The story could have ended there, tragically.

While living and working with his brother in Dallas, he met a spiritual counselor, following her to a New Mexican hostel. His vagabond quest for purpose, meaning, something, leads him from Colorado, to Texas, to New Mexico, to California, to Wyoming, and he began to put the pieces back together. The story could have ended there, contently.

In 2010, Gattis felt the itch once more; after a long journey through troubled waters, the ball field called again. A step-brother played for UTPB and introduced Gattis to the coach, who remembered his talent from years back, and invited him to join the team. After a wildly successful season, the Braves rolled the dice with their 23rd-round pick.

The talent that had once prompted first-round whispers flashed once more, untarnished by the years of despair and idleness. He ripped through the minors, bashing 45 in 227 games at various levels before the Braves called him up in 2013. All he did then was hit 21 long balls and garner some Rookie of the Year votes. He was even better in 2014, stroking another 22 dingers and posting a 125 wRC+.

And now, traded to Houston, the story continues, triumphantly.

The 28-year-old catcher/first baseman/left fielder comes to the Astros in exchange for a package of three young talents, two of them familiar names that have rightfully appeared in most publication's top prospects lists. Clearly, the Astros see something they like.

That something is likely power. Gattis' aforementioned MLB home run totals become more impressive when you consider they came during seasons of 105 and 108 games, respectively. Extrapolate out to a more full schedule of games, and things could look very good indeed; hitting home runs at that rate for 162 games would produce 33 long balls.

Gattis' power is very real; over the last two seasons, he's posted a .234 ISO, which, among hitters with at least 750 plate appearances during that span, is the 12th-best mark in all of baseball. Jose Bautista has him beaten by a mere .005. Anthony Rizzo, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones, Justin Upton and Mark Trumbo are just a few of the names who posted lesser ISOs in 2013 and 2014 combined. The Astros now join the Blue Jays as only the second team to have two of the top 20 ISO hitters of the last two seasons on their roster (Chris Carter is the other one, in case there was a shred of doubt in your mind).

What else does Gattis bring to the table? Well, therein lies the rub; Gattis can hit the ball over the wall with the best of them, but additional value hasn't appeared much so far. His lack of elite offensive upside stems from highly-mediocre walk rates (5.5% in both of his two seasons) and some tendency to strike out. That said, his minor league strike out rates give some hope of a mild improvement that, coupled with a normal BAbip, could lead to something like a .270/.320/.500 line and 30 home runs. Those types of bats don't grow on trees, especially given the shift back towards pitchers dominating the modern game.

The biggest issue with him, however, is defense. Though he's played three positions, including catcher, he didn't excel there, and with Jason Castro, Hank Conger and Carlos Corporan already on the roster, Gattis seeing time behind the plate, baring an emergency following in-game injuries, seems highly unlikely.

That essentially leaves three options; designated hitter, first base and left field. Chris Carter has the DH spot pretty well locked-up after his dynamite second-half, and Jon Singleton, at this point, figures to get a long look at first base. Gattis is certainly not an ideal left fielder, but at the very least, according to advanced metrics, he does make routine plays like he should.

The fit is tough because, despite some pre-trade speculation that was flying around, Dexter Fowler was not, in fact, included in the deal. This means that Evan Gattis, Jake Marisnick and Fowler will likely be duking it out for two outfield spots. Marisnick is the best option defensively for center field, but if Gattis and Fowler are both out there in the same game, there would be no room for him.

Could Gattis be tagged to get playing time at first base? While Singleton is locked up long-term already, his AAA numbers were good, not dominant, and he certainly got banged around in his first taste of MLB action. The Astros essentially admitted that they may have called up Folty too soon last year; could Singleton start the year in AAA for more seasoning, with Gattis plugging in at first?

The final option would be another trade. The speculation around Fowler was not just limited to a perceived fit with Atlanta (though there didn't seem to be one in the first place, frankly). Fowler is a free agent at the end of this coming season, and that combined with the apparently log jam the Astros now face must certainly beg the question; will there be another trade made in the few weeks remaining before spring training?

Gattis brings the certainty of big power production, and according to most that know him, a wonderful presence in the clubhouse, the type that, amongst the entitlement and self-importance that can brew in the minds of professional athletes (as this organization has seen first-hand in recent years), can only be an influence for good. It would be presumptuous to say that the Astros dealt for Gattis because of his background and life experience. But considering the issues they've had, considering that, with trading away Bud Norris, Jarred Cosart and now Michael Foltynewicz, they've been shedding their "problem children" as they continue to rebuild, and it's not a stretch to say that it might have played a part in it.

This move brings improvement, definitely on the field and possibly in the clubhouse. But it brings all new questions. The Astros have improved their offense with a controllable home run hitter, and done so by dealing prospects from areas of depth. Gattis certainly fits in with what the Astros are trying to do; the question is how, exactly.