The Houston Astros snagged one of the best hitters available on the free agent market Monday night as they have reached an agreement with former Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley on a two-year contract.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports were among the first to report the deal.
#Astros closing in on free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley, sources tell The Athletic. Rival executives expect deal to be in two-year, $32M range.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 17, 2018
Michael Brantley is in agreement with the Houston Astros on a two-year, $32 million deal, sources tell Yahoo Sports. Straight two-year deal, no options. Still some work for it to be official, but the terms are in place.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 18, 2018
Brantley will be leaving Cleveland, where he spent the first ten years of his career, making three All-Star teams and winning a Silver Slugger during that time. His 2016 and 2017 seasons were cut short due to a litany of injuries to his shoulder, biceps, and ankles. Brantley needed three separate surgeries during that time before finally being able to resume playing full-time in 2018.
Brantley seized the opportunity this past season, playing in 143 games and slashing .309/.364/.468. He also hit 17 home runs, 36 doubles, and scored 89 runs for the Indians last season. Brantley also maintained his dependability on defense, playing 134 games in left field for Cleveland last season and recording six outfield assists while committing just one error all season long. He finished his 2018 campaign with an impressive .996 fielding percentage.
Brantley’s most prominent attribute is his ability to make solid contact at the plate. He only struck out 60 times in 631 plate appearances last season, and that is mainly because he rarely swings and misses. According to FanGraphs, Brantley finished last season with a meager 3.6% swinging strike percentage, meaning that only 3.6% percent of the time does he ever swing and miss at pitches in the zone.
Andrew Simon of MLB.com also highlighted this by sharing Brantley’s spray chart from the extremely few swings and misses that he had all season.
Michael Brantley is an elite contact hitter.
To help visualize that — he and 2018 teammate Edwin Encarnacion saw and swung at almost the exact same number of pitches. Brantley missed 11%, EE 26%.
Their respective whiffs: pic.twitter.com/tnTjfL8S3Z
— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) December 18, 2018
The Astros had a need for an upgrade in left field, as well as a much more pressing need for an impactful left-handed bat in their lineup to complement their right-handed hitting stars such as Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Carlos Correa.
Getting a player of Brantley’s caliber at the reported two years, $32 million price tag is a bargain for the Astros. The acquisition gives them a boost to their already potent lineup, helping to ensure that they will be right back in contention in 2019. The short length of the contract provides Houston with a measure of insurance in case Brantley’s nasty injury history comes back to rear its ugly head once again. The Astros certainly hope that injuries, past or present, never factor into the equation. However, the team also has to be careful with a player who has already undergone three major surgeries and is entering his 30’s.
Brantley, 31, has put together a stellar career up to this point, having already collected 1195 hits and 87 home runs through his first 10 seasons. Had it not been for injuries in 2016 and 2017, Brantley could well be on pace to reach the 2,500 hit mark at the very least.
Nevertheless, Brantley’s consistency at the plate, as well as his disciplined approach, will serve the Astros greatly as they head into the 2019 season. With the rest of the American League West division somewhat in flux, the Astros are poised to, once again, take the reigns of their division and head on another deep run next season. Swiping Brantley off the free agent market for such a low price may prove to be one of the best moves by any team this offseason.