As the Cardinals head to the offseason looking for ways to improve on their division-winning team in 2015, looking at deficiencies in 2014 should shape the team's wants. For the Cardinals, that deficiency is power. The Cardinals ranked last in the National League in home runs with 105, tenth in slugging percentage at .342, and second-to-last in isolated slugging (SLG-BA) with .116. Finding a power hitter, either in free agency or through the trade market, could greatly help the team as there is little in the way of internal options. Evan Gattis, primarily a catcher, could be available this winter.
For those unfamiliar with Gattis, he looks an awful lot like a player the Cardinals currently have under contract. Consider the following career lines:
Gattis has shown a little more power, while Adams has the higher batting average, but their walk rates (5.5% for both) and strikeout rates (22.7% for Adams, 22.4% for Gattis) are very similar. Gattis, 28, is two years older than Adams, but the two players have the same amount of service time. Both are headed into their final year before salary arbitration and the teams control both players through 2018. Gattis is older due to an incredible comeback after giving up the game of baseball and finding himself with little direction in life. After high school, Gattis told MLB teams he wanted to go to college, and had a scholarship to Texas A&M to play catcher except he never showed up, opting for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic. From the linked USAToday article:
He tried college again at Seminole State Junior College in Oklahoma but, after redshirting as a freshman, played half a season and gave up on baseball and dropped out of school.
Gattis says he spent the next four years working as a car valet in Dallas; a ski lift operator at the Eldora Mountain Resort in Colorado and Taos, N.M; a pizza cook at Nick-N-Willy's in Boulder, Colo.; a housekeeper at the Abominable Snowmansion hostel in Taos, and another in Flagstaff, Ariz.; a machinery operator at Kimbrell's Kustom Machine Shop in Garland, Texas; a golf cart attendant at the Firewheel Golf Course in Garland and a janitor for Jan-Pro Cleaning Systems in Plano, Texas.
Aside from their ages, there are two main differences between Adams and Gattis. The first is that Gattis bats right-handed. While he does great damage against left-handers with a career 138 wRC+ in 177 plate appearances, he can still hold his own against righties, with a wRC+ of 111 in 606 PAs. Gattis did struggle in the second half of 2014, but an injury and bad luck might have played a role in his second half numbers (89 wRC+).
The other major difference between Gattis and Adams is defense. Gattis came up as a catcher and has started 127 games behind the plate over the last two seasons. He also has 47 starts in the outfield and four starts at first base. He does not have enough starts in the outfield to gain any meaningful insight into his numbers there, but he is listed at 6'4" and 260 pounds. His ability to handle the outfield as a regular starter is definitely in question. He is likely a better fit at first base (or designated hitter), but has been unable to get much experience at first with Freddie Freeman playing all 162 games last season.
Gattis could be made available this winter because of the presence of Christian Bethancourt, who got experience at catcher in 2014 when Gattis went down with a back injury. If the Braves feel Bethancourt is ready to take over full-time catching duty, the Braves could still keep Gattis. From the linked AJC article:
Trade one or more from their current outfield of the Uptons and Jason Heyward and move Gattis to left field, where he actually made more starts than he did at catcher as a rookie in 2013. Corner outfielders Justin Upton and Heyward are eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, and the Braves probably can't afford to keep more than one in a long-term extension.
The same article indicates the Braves believe Gattis could get better in the outfield over time, but his ceiling there is not high given his frame. Gattis' value might not be higher than it is right now if he will not spend a lot of time behind the plate in 2015. Gattis is not a great receiver behind the plate and has not done a good job blocking pitches, but has shown to be a decent framer, making him a roughly average catcher according to the advanced metrics available at Baseball Prospectus.
Fitting Gattis on the Cardinals would require creativity and put the Cardinals down a few paths they may not be ready to go. In order to get Gattis enough plate appearances to be worth a trade, they would need to get him at least 40 games at catcher and at first base. Doing the former means finally reducing the playing time for Yadier Molina so that he can stay fresh, something the Cardinals have been unable to do over the past few years aside from time on the disabled list. Doing the latter means putting to bed the idea that Adams will be effective against left-handed pitchers.
Gattis will still need time in the outfield in order to make a trade worthwhile. He is a power bat, a rare commodity in this era of declining offense, and he will likely be high in cost. His trade value is at least equivalent to Matt Adams, perhaps higher, and American League teams might have more interest given the availability of the designated hitter. The Cardinals would need to have a plan in place if it is willing to give up important pieces for Gattis. If they do not think they can find playing time for Gattis, they are better off pursuing other opportunities.