The Astros could lose outfielders George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick to free agency this winter, but The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports in his latest notes column that the club is “trying to work out a deal” with the 33-year-old Brantley. Interest in a reunion is mutual, Rosenthal adds.
Houston opted not to issue an $18.9MM qualifying offer to Brantley, who just wrapped up a two-year, $32MM contract with the ’Stros. The longtime Indians left fielder was excellent in his new setting, delivering a combined .309/.370/.497 line through 824 plate appearances as an Astro. That excellence continued into the playoffs, where Brantley tallied 138 trips to the plate and slashed .311/.391/.426 over the past two postseasons.
It’s not yet known what type of payroll capacity the Astros have this winter, although owner Jim Crane already showed a willingness to spend when he re-signed first baseman Yuli Gurriel to a one-year, $7MM contract (plus a club option) just prior to the beginning of the Wild Card round of postseason play. That deal was in spite of a generally poor year at the plate for Gurriel, which made it rather surprising, but it certainly had to be viewed as a good omen for Astros players like Brantley who hoped to broker a new arrangement with the team.
Then again, adding Gurriel back at that rate further elevated a reasonably crowded Houston payroll. Between him, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Ryan Pressly, Joe Smith and Martin Maldonado, the Astros have more than $103MM on the books (after factoring for Greinke’s partial salary deferrals and the money coming over from the D-backs as part of that deal). Houston also still owes arbitration raises to Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. and Aledmys Diaz. Raises for that trio could bring the Astros north of $122MM before adding pre-arbitration players to round out the roster.
That’s not a daunting number relative to the $200MM+ at which the club opened the 2020 season (prior to prorating), but Crane surely would prefer not to replicate that level of spending in the wake of this year’s lost revenue. That may have been true even under normal circumstances, given that last year’s payroll shattered the previous franchise record of about $160MM. The only times the Astros have ever gone beyond the $125MM mark in payroll were in 2018-20. With needs in the bullpen and perhaps in the rotation, there are other areas that need to be addressed as well.
As Rosenthal points out and as we alluded to in our annual free agent rankings, Brantley’s market is further clouded, to an extent, by uncertainty regarding the universal designated hitter. Brantley will turn 34 years old next May and would benefit from a club that is able to mix in some regular DH reps. He may not be keen on jumping on a new deal until there’s a definitive yay or nay on an NL DH next year. Even if he ultimately lands with an American League team, the presence of the DH in the National League would still improve his negotiating power as he seeks the best deal possible.