Michael Brantley, an option for the Astros?

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CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 20: Michael Brantley #23 of the Cleveland Indians bats against the Chicago White Sox in the eighth inning at Progressive Field on September 20, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. The White Sox defeated the Indians 5-4 in 11 innings. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 20: Michael Brantley #23 of the Cleveland Indians bats against the Chicago White Sox in the eighth inning at Progressive Field on September 20, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. The White Sox defeated the Indians 5-4 in 11 innings. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images) /
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As the annual general manager meetings were taking place early in the week, some interesting free agent possibilities were mentioned by the national media.

Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com recently published an article detailing six free agents who may sign fairly soon. He went in order of Craig Kimbrel, Nelson Cruz, J.A. Happ, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Brantley, and Wilson Ramos. Outside of Kimbrel, five of the names listed could make sense for the Astros, especially Cruz and Ramos. But Morosi only singled out the Astros as a possible fit for one free agent included in his article: Brantley, the left-handed outfielder from the Indians.

As you may already know, Brantley has been a key player in the Indians’ organization for quite some time. Originally a prospect with the Brewers roughly one decade ago, he made his way to Cleveland via the CC Sabathia trade before the 2008 trade deadline. He would eventually establish himself as a core piece of the future for the Indians, however, various injuries would derail his career for a time. Entering this offseason, the left-handed hitter has found his stock on the upswing due to a healthy and productive 2018 season. In 631 plate appearances, the age-31 outfielder slashed .309/.364/.468 with 17 home runs and a 124 wRC+. Best of all, Brantley finished the season relatively healthy. It was also his best season his 6.5 fWAR season back in 2014.

So, why is there a potential fit between Brantley and the Astros?

Here is what Morosi wrote specifically about the Astros and why the outfielder makes sense for them.

"The Astros, who would like to add a left-handed hitter, are one possibility; the fact that Houston is not involved in the Harper pursuit suggests a contract with the Astros is even more plausible. (Brantley, in fact, is a natural second option behind Harper among teams looking to add a corner bat, such as the Giants.)"

There is no doubt that the Astros would to add another left-handed bat to the lineup, especially if switch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez departs via free agency himself. And, no, I’d highly doubt if general manager Jeff Luhnow jumps into the Bryce Harper sweepstakes. It is simply not happening. On a side note, you’d have to wonder if keeping Gonzalez over Brantley would be a better choice, but I digress.

Houston does have a potential need in the outfield, because top prospect Kyle Tucker has yet to prove himself at the major league level. I’d admit that this is a pretty soft reason, but let’s roll with it for a bit. Then there is also the mass fan speculation of trading Tucker to acquire a certain catcher from Miami. Regardless of Tucker, Brantley does fit a potential need in two ways. For a contender like the Astros, Brantley would slide in nicely inside a lineup featuring the right-handed heavy group of Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman.

The primary concern is Brantley’s long-term durability as he will turn 32-years old during the 2019 season. Position players, unlike pitchers, tend not to age gracefully. Often injured position players, I would think, are less likely to age gracefully. The most recent season was Brantley’s healthiest in four years, but one healthy season shouldn’t quiet all of the concerns. That said, he still could demand a contract of three-to-four years with an annual value of anywhere from $14 to $18 million. FanGraphs’ annual Top 50 free agent contract estimates have the outfielder receiving a three-year contract for $45-$48 million.

Next. Grading Dallas Keuchel's 2018 season. dark

With Harper obviously the prized outfielder in this year’s free agent class, Brantley stands to do well. Someone will come along and give him a reasonable contract offer as it grabs one of the best outfielders behind Harper on the market. Like Morosi points out, there is a potential fit with the Astros. However, I’d doubt that Luhnow blocks Tucker from a full-time job in left field for Brantley unless another move takes place.

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