David Hensley expected to fill infield utility role
The Astros made a splash early in free agency, landing Jose Abreu on a three-year deal. Sentiments aside, Abreu is a clear upgrade over the incumbent first baseman, Yuli Gurriel.
With Gurriel hitting free agency at the same time Abreu came in, Yuli's everyday role was eliminated.
According to Bob Nightengale, the Astros offered Gurriel a contract to come back on a reserve role, but Gurriel turned it down in hopes of landing an offer to play first base every day.
While Gurriel may have received an offer for a smaller role, he may not have been the preferred option. According to Chandler Rome:
"According to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, Gurriel is seeking more regular playing time and the Astros would rather give utility at-bats to David Hensley. "- Chandler Rome
Yuli Gurriel is an Astros legend. This much is true. What also is true is that Yuli's best baseball is behind him.
Gurriel was worth -0.3 WAR last season, had a well below league average OPS, and even that somehow outperformed his dreadful quality of contact via Statcast. He did show some flashes in October, but over the grind of a 162-game season, his playing days are numbered.
As the rest of the AL West, with the exception of Oakland, continues to land new talent in hopes of catching Houston, the Astros can ill-afford to grow complacent and rest on their laurels. Playing Yuli in a utility role when he is a below-average defender at every position but first base and has lost his bat, what made him a legend in the first place, there really isn't a role for him.
Enter David Hensley. In only 29 at-bats, Hensley racked up a 0.3 WAR, hitting .345 with a 1.027 OPS. He picked up two knocks in the World Series, not at all seeming sped up by the magnitude of the moment.
His 2023 projections show a drop from those extraordinary numbers, as one would expect, but a .741 OPS from a utility bat is more than enough.
Hensley simply knows how to get on base. He posted a .420 OBP in 104 games at Sugar Land last season before getting on at a 44% clip in his brief big league stint. With as deep as the Astros lineup is, all they need from the bottom of the order is to get on and flip the lineup back over. Hensley does just this.
Yuli, we love you. But it's David Hensley's time. Here's to the next great Astros' utility player.