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Why I Love the Brantley Signing, And What’s Next

Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

First off, I love this signing. In the last five seasons, excepting 2016 when he only played 11 games, he’s averaged 3.7 WAR. We paid essentially for a 2 WAR/year player. Sure, he had a monster year in 2014, but there’s no way that player signs for less than 100 million. Last year he put up 3.5 WAR and had a wRC+ of 124. That was better than Springer’s 2018 season at the plate.

Although Brantley’s OF defense is below average on almost every metric, he remains a good baserunner. More importantly, he’s a left-handed bat that provides protection. We have a top 4 that’s 100% right-handed. The other guys, either present or past, couldn’t reliably protect the top 4, and had to hit middle of the order when the top 4 were injured. Brantley can flat out hit. His bad defense can be covered by playing LF in Minute Maid, and by DH’ing as well as playing some 1b.

What happens next? This will not be the last move. not by a long shot. First, a bit about the current roster. As it now stands, assuming Brantley is in LF and White is DH, the Astros have 3 spots for backups: Stasi, Diaz, and either Kemp or Jake. And if you don’t want Stasi as a backup because you’d rather pay Chorinos 6 million to back up Realmuto, keep in mind that Stasi can’t be optioned. Nor can White or Kemp, if you want Cruz as DH. For every player added, a player has to be taken away, and White, Kemp, and Stasi are too good to pass through waivers. And as far as our top prospect who’s ready for MLB, Tucker is almost guaranteed to start the season in AAA.

The problem with the Astros roster is that too many guys have shuttled between AAA and MLB the last few years. They’re getting older, losing value, and losing roster flex. The problem with the current starting 9 is that it contains too many average or inconsistent offensive performance from positions that normally have above average offense: 1b/corner OF/DH. In 2017 that was mitigated by Marwin and Reddick having career years, plus Altuve putting up an MVP season. The 2017 Astros were a historically great offense. The 2018 Astros rode an unbelievable year from Bregman, and 2nd half Tyler White to a team wRC+ of 110. They wanted to get better in 2019, and appear not to be betting on Marwin and Reddick (or Yuli for that matter) returning to 2017 form. Nor are they relying on Tucker being an every day OF who can hit in the top 5 of this lineup. Signing Brantley solves some of those problems, but creates some others.

The Astros currently have an excess of players who are solid major leaguers (Kemp, Reddick, Yuli, and Marisnick) that clog up the roster, one way or another. Kemp makes no sense as a 4th OF with Reddick and Brantley starting. He can’t be optioned, and there’s no sense in blocking Tucker to keep Kemp in LF. Yuli is a great FB hitter who makes contact and hits to all fields, with solid if not spectacular results. Reddick is good defensive RF who is one year away from a 3.4 WAR season when he was 28% above average at the plate. And Jake easily projects as a 2 WAR outfielder if given the PAs. He’s produced at least 1 WAR in 3 of the last 4 seasons.

The current clog doesn’t even get to guys who are blocked: Tucker, Straw, and, perhaps by June, a top 50 prospect named Yordan Alvarez. Not to mention the guys on the 40-man gathering dust in Fresno: Reed, Davis, and Fisher.

What’s clear is that the Astros probably need to clear two hitters off the roster. Yuli and Reddick are the most obvious choices because of their salaries. And Brantley can play where they play. If Yuli is gone, White plays more 1b, and Brantley can perhaps rotate between 1b/DH/LF, maybe starting 50 games at each spot. That frees Kemp or Jake to play more in the OF. Trading Reddick makes room for Tucker. Yet just one move doesn’t solve the roster crunch.

What if the Astros got rid of both Reddick and Gurriel?

As a thought experiment, here is what the Astros’ lineup looks like without Yuli and Josh:

  1. Springer CF
  2. Brantley DH
  3. Altuve 2b
  4. Bregman 3b
  5. Correa SS
  6. Tucker RF
  7. White 1b
  8. Kemp LF
  9. Chorinos C

The bench is Diaz (who would probably get as many or more ABs as Kemp and White), Stasi, and Marisnick. Except for Tucker, the worst hitter in that lineup last year was Carlos Correa. That’s a deep lineup with pop and contact ability.

The AAA depth is Straw, Davis, Stubbs, and Alvarez. And who knows if Seth Beer explodes. They get middle IF depth with minor league options in one of the trades (basically a better Jack Mayfield). And they take the 23 million they would save in payroll to help offset the cost of adding either Rich Hill or Zach Greinke. Now that’s a hot stove I want to stand around!