Michael Brantley has been one of the Astros’ top bats in 2022.
The 35-year-old veteran has not only continued to hit and get on base at a high clip, but he’s made notably more hard contact than in previous years and has walked more times than he’s struck out.
He’s also not appeared in a game since June 26.
Due to right shoulder discomfort, Brantley has been on the 10-day injured list for more than three weeks.
When he was placed on the IL on June 28, Brantley’s shoulder wasn’t perceived to be a terribly significant injury. At the time, it seemed the Astros were perhaps being more cautious than anything else, and by shutting him down would preserve his health for the stretch run in August and September.
But with August nearly a week away, the club’s everyday left fielder is still without a timetable:
.@astros GM James Click on Michael Brantley: “Michael’s continuing to progress. Unfortunately, right now, the best medicine is time. Sometimes we have to wait for everything to calm down, the inflammation to calm down in the shoulder…We don’t have a timetable at this point.” pic.twitter.com/Nn5h97QL71— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) July 21, 2022
To make matters more worrisome, Brantley’s injured shoulder is the same one that needed major surgery in 2016.
A lack of meaningful progress after almost four weeks on the mend is not necessarily alarming by itself, but the fact that Brantley is beginning to have concerns himself might be:
Dusty Baker on Michael Brantley: “He’s a little concerned that he’s not ready.” Dusty also expects to have some news on Jason Castro real soon” pic.twitter.com/3epEhP9wBj— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) July 21, 2022
Entering Friday, the Astros own a 10-game lead in the AL West and have a 100 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to FanGraphs. Moreover, October is roughly 10 weeks away. Brantley should return to action before then. He should.
At this point, it’s highly unlikely that the five-time All-Star will still be on the injured list come playoff time, but because of the uncertainty surrounding his shoulder, it puts the Astros in a fairly precarious position with the trade deadline approaching.
The 6 p.m. (ET) deadline on August 2 will mark the last time the Astros can meaningfully add to their roster. The waiver trade deadline was expunged in 2019, so there won’t be an opportunity for Houston’s front office to execute a dramatic late-season trade akin to Justin Verlander’s acquisition in 2017, which occurred on August 31.
This gives James Click and co. less than two weeks to decide if they need to acquire a corner outfielder. While it’s possible that Brantley makes significant strides in his rehab between now and August 2, adding another notable outfielder to the roster could be prudent given his unknown status. Brantley keeps himself in visibly good shape, but at 35, his body may not respond to injuries the way it did when he was younger.
What puts the Astros in somewhat of a bind is that they’ll need to dip into their asset pool if they want to essentially buy insurance, something they might not have envisioned as being necessary a few weeks ago. Now it could be unavoidable.
During Click’s tenure as general manager, he’s been markedly less aggressive than his predecessor, Jeff Luhnow. Although Luhnow was armed with a better farm system, Click’s Tampa Bay pedigree indicates that he’ll attempt to make the most cost-effective moves possible, which is far from a bad thing, but it ostensibly disinclines him from making certain trades that could greatly upgrade his team as it strives to make another World Series appearance.
Based on Click’s (limited) track record and his purported philosophy, plan B in left field could consist of a platoon between Chas McCormick and a left-handed hitter that would be acquired via trade.
James Click on the trade deadline: “We are going to explore, all options and all avenues to improve this team… we are being aggressive.”— Michael Schwab (@michaelschwab13) July 20, 2022
Click said they won’t do a short-term move that jeopardizes the long-term competitiveness of the franchise. (@SeanUnfiltered show)
A relatively inexpensive trade is what’s most likely, but not just because of the Astros’ organizational prudence. Another factor that could deter Click from making a splash: MLB’s expanded playoffs.
Because there is an additional playoff spot in each league starting this year, contenders such as the Astros won’t be incentivized to optimize their roster in preparation for the postseason, as simply making it into the dance is what matters most. From there, it’s more or less a crapshoot.
With the draft over, Click and his staff are now focusing solely on next month’s deadline. Left field is not the only position that could stand to be strengthened, but due to Brantley’s unexpectedly extensive recovery, perhaps no other spot on the diamond needs to be addressed more.