MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Gattis trade difficult for both Astros and Braves

Gattis trade difficult for both Astros and Braves

OK, Braves fans, take a deep breath. Yes, you will miss Evan Gattis. His power is impressive, his humility appealing. This is one of those times when the baseball team's bottom line collides with the emotion of losing a popular player.

Funny thing is, the Astros feel absolutely the same way. This trade stung from their end, too, although in a different way. Three years ago when Jeff Luhnow became the general manager, his primary goal was to build a great farm system.

While so many things go into constructing a winning baseball team, everything begins with having a Minor League pipeline to replenish the Major League roster and to make deals like this possible.

Today, the Astros have one of the best systems in baseball. And after six straight losing seasons and after averaging 104 losses the last four years, they believe they're capable of turning a corner in 2015. They've got waves of other young talent on the way, but to win in 2015, they needed to add experience and talent.

At a time when power and offense are in short supply in baseball, the Braves offered the Astros a chance to get a pure power hitter who was four seasons away from free agency.

In two seasons, Gattis has 43 home runs in just 213 games. There may be questions about his durability and strikeouts (178 in 723 at-bats), but the bottom line is that the Astros desperately need his offense.

If they had to pay a price higher than they were comfortable paying, so be it. With American League batting champion Jose Altuve at the top of the lineup and George Springer, Chris Carter and now Gattis in the middle, the Astros believe they've taken a significant step.

When this trade for Gattis is combined with the earlier acquisitions of shortstop Jed Lowrie and relievers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson, the Astros think a .500 season is within reach.

To get Gattis, though, Luhnow had to surrender two of his most prized prospects: 23-year-old right-hander Michael Foltynewicz and 20-year-old third baseman Rio Ruiz. (Right-hander Andrew Thurman is also going to the Braves in the trade, and the Astros are getting right-hander James Hoyt.)

Foltynewicz has a 97-mph fastball and a big-time big league makeup. The Astros had him penciled in for a spot at the back of their rotation in 2015 and thought he might grow into being a very productive big league starter.

As for Ruiz, he got all the way to High A ball in 2014 at 20 and more than held his own, compiling an .823 OPS. Long term, the Astros saw him and Colin Moran, acquired from the Marlins last summer, competing for the third-base job.

If both Foltynewicz and Ruiz end up having long, productive Major League careers, the Astros will not be surprised. When clubs invest in and groom young players, when they watch them grow and when they have high hopes for them, trading them becomes difficult on a variety of levels.

Among the toughest thing any team does is evaluate its own players. Do they have them rated too high? Or are they going to trade a kid who ends up being a star for the next decade?

Given the amount of time Gattis has missed, there's risks on both sides for the Astros. But trades don't come with guarantees. The Astros wanted to make a trade that provided them immediate help.

As painful as it may be for Braves fans to see Gattis go, this is a deal that makes sense for their team. From the moment John Hart took over as president of baseball operations in Atlanta, he has been resolute that his team needed more youth, more depth and more salary flexibility.

If the Braves had to take a step or two back in the short term to build long-term success, he was willing to do that. In the span of a few weeks, he has dotted his farm system with an array of talented kids: pitchers Ricardo Sanchez and Max Fried, infielders Jace Peterson and Dustin Peterson, and center fielder Mallex Smith.

This trade was a continuation of that philosophy. With the earlier acquisition of Shelby Miller and now Foltynewicz, Hart may have added two starters for 2015 while deepening his system at almost every position.

With Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Gattis gone, it'll be interesting to see how Hart fills out the rest of his roster. But after finishing 17 games out of first place in the NL East last season, the Braves are methodically positioning themselves to get back into contention.

Both Hart and Luhnow will be keeping an eye on how the players they surrendered are doing. In the end, though, both teams got what they wanted out of this trade.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.