Astros Must Answer Catching Quandry

Gattis: Starter, backup or trade bait?
(c) Sports Illustrated
Evan Gattis led the Astros in home runs last year yet remains a man without a position. The slugger caught 55 games in 2016 and the defensive metrics indicated he was neither a positive nor a liability behind the plate but a history of knee injuries and an arm that is mediocre at best doesn't make him an ideal starting catcher.

Still, he hit 32 homers.

The 30-year-old was a designated hitter the rest of the time while Jason Castro caught. Overall, Gattis batted .251 which is not bad for a DH but not wonderful either.

Still, he hit 32 homers.

Gattis made an unusual contract agreement with the Astros entering his arbitration years, giving the Astros a club option to re-sign him for 2017 at $5.2 million, a bargain for a 32-homer, .826 OPS player. Castro, meanwhile is eligible for free agency this winter and it is doubtful the Astros will dangle a $17.2 million qualifying offer to bring him back.

Once an All-Star, Castro turned in his second consecutive year of .211 hitting with 11 homers. Castro provides above-average defense but will turn 30 in June and is expected to want a minimum of $8-to-9 million per year in a multi-year deal.

There's nothing much tantalizing on the farm. Oft-injured Max Stassi appears to be burning out at the AAA level.

So the Astros are left with several ways to go at catcher this off-season and none of them feel like long-term answers. They can let Castro walk and pair Gattis with a veteran backstop needing regular rest, the best of which might be free agent Matt Weiters of Baltimore.

They could keep Gattis as a full-time DH and emergency catcher, re-signing Castro and adding a third catcher who has big league experience.

They could sign or trade for a full-time veteran catcher who would be an upgrade over Castro (Wilson Ramos, perhaps?) and package Gattis as trade bait to land a front-line starting pitcher. After all, a lot of teams would be interested in a hitter with 30 bombs at a below-market price. Could he be part of a 3-for-1 deal to pry Chris Sale away from the White Sox?

The addition of Yulieski Gurriel complicates this issue. He's another man without a true position. An infielder by trade, Gurriel won't unseat Jose Altuve at second, Carlos Correa at shortstop or Alex Bregman at third. Will he be the future DH instead of Gattis or is he destined to platoon at first base or left field?

The Astros are committed to adding payroll for next year after mostly standing pat in 2016 and losing ground from the previous season. Most agree the Astros will be adding help in the outfield and the starting rotation.

Before reaching answers on some of these matters, the club first needs to decide how much they want to spend for a catching tandem and decide if Evan Gattis is part of that equation. He will quickly become too expensive as a backup catcher but perhaps not prolific enough to be a full-time Designated Hitter.

Yet, how do you replace 32 homers?

- Bob Hulsey