The Houston Astros have been doing something extremely rare, if not unprecedented, this offseason, as they try to retool their roster to defend their World Series title and do it without anyone carrying the title of "General Manager" in the building.
James Click was let go by the team just three days after the World Series parade, and since then, the decision making body has consisted of owner Jim Crane making moves with input from a small committee of folks, including Astros legend Jeff Bagwell and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. This has led to speculation that the Astros will revert back to more "gut feeling" decision making and less analytically based decisions.
The truth is that every decision will likely incorporate some element of both, and that's what the club's most recent decision to bring back outfielder/DH Michael Brantley on a one year, $12 million deal feels like. On the "gut feeling" side, Brantley is one of the clubhouse leaders and a chemistry staple. On the numbers side, Brantley is one of the most consistent hitters, when healthy, in baseball.
A few more thoughts on the return of the man they call "Uncle Mike":
This move is not surprising
When Brantley nearly left for Toronto in 2021, after his first contract with the team, it was evident by the 11th hour swerve, and the Astros giving him an identical deal to his first one ( 2 years, $32 million), that the two sides wanted to keep this thing going. Brantley is a valued leader in the Astros clubhouse, and according to people close to the team, a valued friend fo owner Jim Crane. With his shoulder healing from in season surgery, Brantley probably had a market that was less robust than years past, and coming back for another World Series run with a familiar group was enticing.
This is a solid deal for both sides
The deal is a one year contract for $12 million in base salary. Additionally, there are another $4 million Brantley can make in incentives. Without having the actual incentive language in front of me, I would have to assume that if Brantley stays healthy and has seasons in line with what he's done as an Astro from a hitting standpoint, he will be back near $16 million in overall earnings. For his career, Brantley is a .298 hitter with a .795 OPS. In 2022, he had a .785 OPS before his balky shoulder shut down his 2022 campaign. He had surgery during the season, and was forced to watch from the dugout as the Astros won their second World Series, and first with Brantley on the roster.
There is a bit of a "DH logjam"
Brantley's return does create a bit of a logjam in terms of how the team sues the designated hitter spot. With the signing of Jose Abreu, who is a below average defensive player, the hope had been that he could play DH on certain days. Brantley's best defensive days are certainly behind him, and Yordan Alvarez is underrated defensively, but still someone the Astros will use in the outfield with caution, given his injury history. So that dynamic yields three guys at two fielding positions who need to use the DH as a parking spot in the lineup from time to time. It's a bit clunky, but it's a problem that about 25 other teams would welcome. The Astros will figure it out.
Is this it for the offseason?
The free agent market has kind of dried up. The Astros were hoping to come away with a first baseman, an outfielder, and a backup catcher, and the signings of Abreu and Brantley accomplish two of those three things, albeit with guys who are north of 35 years old. The Astros had to let Justin Verlander walk, but the pitching staff is deep. If there are moves left to be made, I could see one of them being a trade for a center fielder and I could also see a contract extension or two for one of the team's younger players like Kyle Tucker or Framber Valdez.
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