The Astros’ pending addition of outfielder Michael Brantley gives them some options, which largely depend on how they handle Kyle Tucker.
Impatient Astros fans were finally rewarded on Monday when news broke of an agreement to sign free agent outfielder Michael Brantley. This is the club’s first big splash of the offseason and adds an important piece to the lineup. But of course, it means another big decision will have to be made regarding top prospect Kyle Tucker.
Now somewhat expendable, Tucker could be used as trade bait. Alternatively, the Astros could still keep him and find at-bats for all four outfielders. His high ceiling could be too much for the front office to give up on.
Here are the choices the Astros will face with Tucker:
Keep Tucker and Make Brantley the Primary DH
If the Astros simply aren’t willing to give up on their top position player prospect, they could still fit him into the lineup regularly. Brantley could get the bulk of the at-bats at DH and some at first base as well, in addition to playing the outfield when someone needs a day off. That could serve to preserve his health throughout the season.
A number of fans already think Tucker is a bust, but it’s unfair to make that judgment after just 72 plate appearances at age 21. He’s raked throughout the minors, including at Triple-A, and looks to be an impact player for years to come. Keeping him would be the best thing to ensure the Astros remain competitive for the next decade and would provide depth in case of injury.
Trade Tucker for J.T. Realmuto
Fans have long been clamoring for arguably the game’s best catcher, and including Tucker in such a deal would put the Astros in a strong position. Max Stassi would probably have to be included in that deal as well, as the team likely won’t carry three catchers.
Bringing in Realmuto would give the Astros another All-Star and put them in an even better position to win another World Series in 2019. Even if Tucker blossoms in Miami, I doubt fans would mind if the trade results in another title.
Trade Tucker for Pitching
Arguably a greater need right now for the Astros is in the starting rotation. They could use a solid No. 3 starter to slot in behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and the free agent market has few options remaining. Their best bet to acquire such an arm may be through a trade.
Tucker would be a centerpiece of any deal. The Astros could go big and pry Corey Kluber away from Cleveland, and the Indians need outfield help. If you’re looking to win another title, a Big Three of Verlander, Cole and Kluber is a great place to start.
The Bottom Line
What this boils down to is a gamble. The Astros could gamble on Kyle Tucker’s potential and that he’ll become the big league player they’ve always thought he would. If they’re right, keeping him will pay off for a long time. If they’re wrong, they will miss the opportunity to cash in on him.
Alternatively, they could gamble that trading Tucker for an All-Star would bring them another championship right now. If the Astros fall short and Tucker becomes an All-Star in his own right, it could come back to haunt them down the road.
Basically, the Astros don’t have to trade him. But now with Brantley in the fold, they can afford to.
***Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference***