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Astros re-sign Michael Brantley

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The Astros have agreed to a one-year, $12 million contract with the outfielder Michael Brantley, pending a physical. Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on the value of the contract, with New York Post’s Jon Heyman (Twitter connections) adding that the deal also contains $4 million in additional incentive bonuses. Robert Murray of FanSided (Twitter link) initially reported that the two sides were in talks over a new deal. Brantley is represented by Excel Sports Management.

Brantley enters his season at 36, and 2023 will be his fifth year in a Houston uniform. He had previously signed a pair of two-year, $32 million packages with the team in his last two trips to free agency, and coincidentally, four years ago today, Brantley accepted for the first time. time to join the Astros.

In terms of pure numbers, Brantley’s tenure in Houston was very successful, with a 128 wRC+ and a .306/.368/.464 slant line and 40 homers in 1,609 plate appearances. Unfortunately for Brantley, his role in the Astros’ 2022 championship season ended on June 26, due to a shoulder injury that ultimately required surgery. Brantley only played 64 games.

It’s not the first time Brantley has had shoulder surgery, as he previously went under the knife to repair a small tear in his labrum in 2015 and then played just 11 games for Cleveland during the season. 2016. Beyond shoulder issues, Brantley also struggled with ankle and back issues throughout his career, but his first three seasons with the Astros were reasonably healthy. Quad, knee and hamstring issues sent Brantley to the injured list three times in 2020-21, but the three IL stays combined for about a month of missed time.

The presence of Yordan Alvarez probably prevented the Astros from using Brantley as DH as often as they probably would like, although on paper manager Dusty Baker could alternate the two players between left field and DH in order to hopefully keep it all the cool world. With Brantley back in the mix, Jacques Meyers and Chas McCormick will now split time in center field.

The Astros were known to seek for outfield assist, preferably a left-handed bat (like Brantley) to balance a range of mostly right-handed hitters. Michel Conforto and the switch Jurickson Profar other free agents have reportedly been on Houston’s radar, and the Astros have also had conversations with the Diamondbacks about their surplus of left-handed outfielders, especially Daulton Varsho. Among the players who have already signed with other teams, André Benintendi and Cody Bellinger also received some consideration from the World Series champions.

Of all those options, the Astros settled on a familiar face in Brantley, counting on a comeback year. The signing suggests Houston (who knows Brantley’s medical profile better than anyone) feels good about the outfielder’s chances of recovering well from shoulder rehab and returning to his pre-plate form. The $4 million in performance incentives give Brantley an extra chance to earn money if he stays healthy and maintains his usual productivity levels.

While injuries are understandably the biggest question mark hanging over Brantley, there’s also the question of what to expect from any hitter as he sinks into his 30s. Brantley’s home run totals and slugging percentage have both dropped quite sharply over the past two seasons, though he seemed to be adjusting by having a closer eye on the plate. Although within the small sample size of 277 PA, Brantley’s walk rate of 11.2% in 2022 was the highest of his 14-year Major League career. Brantley also remained one of the hardest hitters in baseball, and his 45.1% hard-hit total last season was also his highest since Statcast began tracking the category in 2015.

Between Brantley and Jose Abreu, the Astros have bolstered their roster with a pair of “professional hitting” types who bring plenty of experience to the table. Between Brantley’s $12 million deal and Abreu’s three-year, $58.5 million deal, Houston estimated payroll now stands at around $194 million, with a luxury tax figure of just over $209 million. That still leaves the Astros well below the $233 million luxury tax threshold, and some of that space could be used as a receiver, as Houston has explored the backstop market. Some cheaper options to like Tucker Barnhart stay in free agency, or the Astros could consider trades to receiving teams like the Blue Jays.

Photo courtesy of Sports Pictures USA Today

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