When the Astros signed outfielder Michael Brantley to a two-year deal this week, it wasn't the huge splash someone like catcher J.T. Realmuto would make. And it didn't fill any noticeable hole like a starting pitcher might. But, it did create something for the Astros that they needed last season: flexibility.
For as great as they were (they did win 103 games) and as remarkable as their pitching was, the Astros had the feel of a team that wasn't quite right, particularly on offense. Maybe some of it was lightning in a bottle in 2017 or the specter of injuries that came calling in 2018. But, something was off.
Since the start of the offseason, familiar faces like Dallas Keuchel, Evan Gattis, Brian McCann and Marwin Gonzales are gone (or will be) without any big name replacements. Adding Aledmys Diaz provided them with a younger, cheaper version of Gonzales and Brantley is a more proven version of Tony Kemp (who remains on the roster, it should be noted). Still, it may not have been what Astros fans were hoping for at the start of the hot stove league.
But, when you look at how Brantley (and Diaz) affects a lineup that struggled at times last season, suddenly it feels more like holes are being filled by Jeff Lunhow and company.
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First, Brantley immediately becomes the every-day left fielder leaving Kemp and Jake Marisnick as specialty bench players who have every-day capability. Josh Reddick could DH giving them two left-handed bats in the lineup with Brantley. Brantley can also DH and if he played a little first, Kemp could mean a third lefty in the lineup in left field. On days when Carlos Correa needs a break, they have Diaz or the can slide Yuli Gurriel to third and Alex Bregman to shortstop with Brantley at first.
That isn't even mentioning Kyle Tucker, who still has all his minor league options and will likely open the season in the minors unless he is dealt. Those are tons of chess pieces for manager AJ Hinch to work with.
More importantly, it gives Lunhow assets that could turn into a player like Realmuto or a starting pitcher. It's still a few months before pitchers and catchers report, you know.
Brantley may not be the sexy signing fans were looking for this offseason, but it gives the Astros all kinds of choices, on the field and off.