Astros: Michael Brantley IL stint hints at bigger issue

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - AUGUST 06: Michael Brantley #23 of the Houston Astros gets ready in the batters box against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 06, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - AUGUST 06: Michael Brantley #23 of the Houston Astros gets ready in the batters box against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 06, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /
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Houston Astros outfielder Michael Brantley’s trip to the Injured List hints at a bigger issue.

It wasn’t a big surprise when the Houston Astros placed outfielder Michael Brantley on the Injured List prior to Saturday’s game. He’d been battling leg injuries ever since the dustup with the Dodgers when Joe Kelly stepped in the basepath while covering first. The triumphant return of Yordan Alvarez gave the team no choice.

Alvarez is not going to play the field this season and could be the team’s full-time DH for the next several years. Even if his knees don’t get any better, he should still hit as long as he can stand up there and swing. Look at David Ortiz — the man could barely run the bases in his final season but raked at the plate anyway. Alvarez is that type of hitter.

This complicates things for Brantley, however. He’s been limited to DH duties since that Dodgers game, but he would have to play the field to be in the lineup with Alvarez. The reason for his IL stint is right quad discomfort, as he worked out in the outfield on Friday but ended up feeling even worse on Saturday.

Brantley does have an injury history, as he missed nearly all of 2016 with shoulder issues and has had various other injuries cost him some time over the years. He’s 33 now, so he’s no spring chicken, though he should continue to hit just fine if he’s healthy. But therein lies the question — if he’s healthy.

Crowd at DH

Brantley is a good defender when he’s out there, as we saw last season. But if injuries to his lower half continue to limit him this season, the Astros will have to think long and hard about whether they can afford to give him a new contract. They can’t make him the DH as long as Alvarez is on the roster.

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Hopefully the front office will prioritize a pursuit of George Springer this offseason. If they are able to retain him, there might not be room for Brantley in the budget anyway. Besides, the team seems to have greater needs on the pitching side, so the remaining budget space may need to go there.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to continue to see Brantley suit up in the orange and blue. He’s a fantastic all-around player and just puts up a professional at-bat every time. I certainly wouldn’t mind having a few more hitters like him in the lineup.

But the Astros may not be able to take the risk of giving him a new contract when he might end up being a better fit as a DH. Alvarez certainly isn’t going anywhere, so it might be best for Brantley to find a team that can give him regular starts there. We’ll see how the rest of this season goes, but it’s looking more likely that this could be his last in Houston.

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