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.
Fowler, 28, was a logical target for the Braves — he is from Atlanta and would have replaced Upton in center field. The Braves also are seeking young pitching and would like to add a veteran catcher such as Corporan to pair with Christian Bethancourt.
The Astros, however, balked at adding $39 million in payroll — the difference between Upton’s remaining $46.35 million and Fowler’s $7.35 million — and the teams never agreed on the second player going to the Braves.
The discussions, which one source said initially had "some legs," could revive in a different form due to the Astros’ continued interest in Gattis. But the Braves, in their talks with the Astros, demonstrated that they will not trade Gattis unless they receive a significant benefit.
John Hart, the Braves’ new president of baseball operations, has said repeatedly that the team is not looking to move Gattis, who has hit 43 homers in 723 major-league at-bats and could be the club’s Opening Day left fielder next season.
But if trading Gattis means that the Braves could purge the remaining three years on Upton’s contract, then club officials clearly are open to the idea.
Gattis, 28, is one year away from arbitration and four years away from free agency. If he were on the open market, he would command a sizable deal. Hence, the Braves’ rationale for requiring any team that wants him to also take Upton: A suitor could think of it as paying Upton’s money to Gattis and Gattis’ money to Upton.
The Astros, taking advantage of the designated hitter rule in the American League, could use Gattis in the DH spot and also in left field, at first base and as a third catcher. They then could move their own designated hitter, Chris Carter, in a separate deal. Carter hit 37 homers last season. Like Gattis, he bats right-handed and is a year away from arbitration.
Upton’s money, though, proved an insurmountable obstacle in the Astros’ talks with the Braves. The Astros did not want to increase payroll by such a large amount at a time when they are looking to upgrade the left side of their infield and spend big on a free-agent reliever such as David Robertson or Andrew Miller.