The Astros have agreed to a deal with free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley, according to Monday evening reports from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan. Brantley is expected to receive a two-year contract worth $32 million:
#Astros closing in on free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley, sources tell The Athletic. Rival executives expect deal to be in two-year, $32M range.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 17, 2018
Michael Brantley is in agreement with the Houston Astros on a two-year, $32 million deal, sources tell Yahoo Sports. Straight two-year deal, no options. Still some work for it to be official, but the terms are in place.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 18, 2018
Brantley, 31, arguably was the next-best left-handed hitter on the market after Bryce Harper this offseason, and if he can stay healthy he should be an interesting addition to the Astros’ lineup. This will be the first time he’s played in the majors with a team other than the Indians; Cleveland acquired him as a Double-A prospect in the deal that sent C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers in July of 2008. Brantley has struggled with shoulder and ankle injuries in recent seasons, playing just 11 big-league games in 2016 and 90 in 2017. But he’s been fantastic when he’s been on the field and reached the All-Star Game in 2014 (a season during which he also finished third in AL MVP voting), 2017, and 2018.
Playing his first full season since 2015, Brantley ranked fifth among qualifying AL hitters in batting average (.309), 13th in OBP (.364), and 17th in OPS (.832) in 2018. He’s not a huge power hitter — he hit 17 homers while playing his home games in Progressive Field, which is certainly more friendly to hitters than it is to pitchers — but it’s not as if the Astros have really been a huge home-run hitting team during their current run of success anyway, and they’ve gotten along just fine.
Brantley’s primary purpose will be to fill the void in left field which has existed to an extent for the Astros’ entire run of success, but which had been filled most prominently by utility man Marwin Gonzalez, who is now a free agent and unlikely to return to Houston. But according to Passan’s report, Brantley will also see action as a designated hitter — which isn’t surprising since Evan Gattis is also a free agent and DHing will allow Brantley to stay fresher — and as a first baseman, which is a bit more surprising since Brantley hasn’t played the position since he was in Double-A. But having Brantley as an option at first increases Houston’s ability to move Yuli Gurriel around the field as a de-facto Gonzalez replacement — something they were already planning to do more in 2019 with Tyler White having established himself as a starting-caliber player this past season.
Though Rosenthal reported over the weekend that the Astros are open to trading right fielder Josh Reddick, the addition of Brantley seemingly limits the potential opportunities for top prospect Kyle Tucker quite a bit for the moment. The 21-year-old Tucker, who is ranked as the No. 5 prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline, struggled in his first major-league season, hitting .141/.236/.203 with no homers in 72 plate appearances, but it’s certainly curious to see the Astros effectively blocking him from full-time duty when they’ve generally been so committed to developing their own prospects under Jeff Luhnow’s leadership.