What are the chances Michael Brantley remains with the Astros beyond 2020?
When the Astros signed Michael Brantley to a two-year deal prior to the 2019 season, I immediately loved it. Brantley’s always been able to hit; staying healthy is what troubled him over the previous few seasons.
In his first season in Houston, Brantley delivered to the tune of a .311/.372/.503 line with 40 doubles, 90 RBIs and a career-high 22 homers. He made the All-Star team, hit .304 in the ALCS and .321 in the World Series, and occupied a key spot in the middle of the lineup.
Much has been made of the fact that George Springer is set to hit free agency after this season, and Josh Reddick‘s contract will expire as well. But the Brantley situation has flown under the radar so far, much like Brantley himself tends to do.
Much To Be Decided
It’s rather unlikely the Astros sign anyone to an extension before Spring Training begins, considering they’re currently operating without a permanent GM in place. As I wrote previously, they need someone to step into that role and lay out a vision for the next several years. Signing guys like Springer and Brantley to extensions may or may not be part of that vision.
But once the season is over, whoever is running the baseball operations department will have to decide whether and how strongly to pursue the team’s free agents. Do you accept that you can’t afford them, like they did with Gerrit Cole, or do you wade into the bidding hoping to retain one of your cornerstones?
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The chances of extending both Springer and Brantley don’t appear to be very strong. The club has Kyle Tucker in place, and Myles Straw or Yordan Alvarez could occupy a spot in the outfield as well. Straw’s defense and speed would play well in center field.
The fact that there is very little certainty on the pitching staff for the future, coupled with the large salaries Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are guaranteed, makes it unlikely the team will want to spend big to retain their entire position player core. Some guys may stick around, but not everyone.
Factors in Play
For one, how the 2020 season goes will have a huge impact on the Astros’ desire to retain Brantley. If he’s able to stay healthy and provides another season of a .300-ish average with 20 homers, of course anyone would love to have that in their lineup. If the injury bug strikes again, however, that could change things.
You also have to consider Brantley’s age. He will turn 33 in May, so a new contract would begin with his age-34 season. It’s doubtful the Astros would want to go beyond two years with Brantley, but considering they got him on a two-year deal the first time, that may be doable.
Much will depend on their ability (or willingness) to retain Springer. A new contract for him would probably not leave room for Brantley, especially with so many upcoming needs on the pitching staff. But if Springer leaves, keeping Uncle Mike around for another year or two, at a salary close to or slightly less than what he makes now, wouldn’t be a bad idea.
But that will all depend on who takes over the baseball operations department and what kind of vision they have for the future. Hopefully the hire, when it’s announced, will give us a clue as to the direction of the club.