Michael Brantley‘s free agency journey will make a landing in Houston, as the 31-year-old outfielder is close to signing a two-year deal, worth $32 million, with the Houston Astros, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Brantley has spent his entire career with the Cleveland Indians, but has been riddled by injuries in previous years. He was limited to only 11 games in 2016 due to a shoulder injury and 90 games in 2017 due to an ankle injury. However, in 2018, Brantley returned to form, batting .309/.364/.468, with 17 home runs and 76 runs batted in, in 143 games for the Tribe, making his third All-Star appearance. Brantley won the Silver Slugger award in 2014 as well, as he had the first 200-hit season by a Cleveland Indian since Kenny Lofton did it in 1996.
One of the intriguing aspects of Brantley’s game is his exceptional plate patience and swing-and-miss prowess. In 2018, Brantley had swung at 1,008 pitches and had a swing-and-miss on 111 pitches, giving him a 11% whiff rate, which was the third-lowest in baseball. He only trailed David Fletcher of the Los Angeles Angels (10.2%) and Joe Panik (10.7%) of the San Francisco Giants. Future teammate Alex Bregman, who had a breakout 2018 campaign, was seventh, with a whiff rate of 12.9%. Brantley has never struck out more than 76 times in a season in his career, as well, with 2011 being a career-worst in that statistic.
Brantley’s addition to the lineup will also help balance a righty-heavy lineup, or at least to an extent. The only left-handed hitters in Houston’s lineup are Josh Reddick and Tony Kemp. While that makes the Astros susceptible to specialists, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports puts it, their lineup is full of players with versatility and bat-to-ball ability. In 2018, the Astros had a hard-hit rate of 34.6%, which was above the MLB average of 34.2%. Brantley posted a 37.6% hard-hit rate with the Indians in 2018.
The addition of Brantley also shakes up the trade market. J.T. Realmuto, who has been rumored to be available by the Miami Marlins, would be a perfect fit with Houston, who only have recently-signed Robinson Chirinos and Max Stassi behind the plate. Astros’ top prospect, Kyle Tucker, would become more expandable by the Brantley signing, as Brantley would block him as a major league player. Tucker would be the center-piece of the trade, if one is to occur.
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