Astros outfielder Michael Brantley underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in August but told reporters, including Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, that he intends to play next year and should be ready for Spring Training.
Brantley, who will turn 36 in May, has played in 14 MLB seasons at this point and has designs on a 15th. His career has been defined by stretches where he’s one of the best hitters in the game but intermixed with extended injury absences. In 2016 and 2017, he only played 101 total games but bounced back with a nice 2018 season, hitting .309/.364/.468 in 143 games with Cleveland.
He parlayed that fine season into a two-year, $32MM contract with the Astros. He hit .311/.372/.503 over 148 games in 2019 while avoiding any trips to the injured list. He had a single 10-day minimum stint on the IL in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, getting into 46 out of 60 games and hitting .300/.364/.476.
The Astros were evidently pleased with how that contract played out as they gave him the same deal again, $32MM over another two seasons. Brantley made a couple trips to the IL in 2021 but without missing significant time, getting into 121 games and hitting well yet again, producing a line of .311/.362/.437. He was on the verge of another solid season here this year, hitting .288/.370/.416 before the shoulder injury cut his campaign short after just 64 contests.
That second Astros contract is now winding down, with Brantley heading back to the open market. It’s possible that, once he recovers from the surgery, he will have to hold some kind of a showcase for teams to demonstrate his health. We saw this storyline play out a year ago with another Astro, when Justin Verlander was coming back from Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2021 but then was able to hold a showcase and impress enough teams to garner significant interest. In the end, he agreed to return to the Astros and has had an excellent season here in 2022.
Since the Astros have already shown a willingness to bet on one of their guys bouncing back from a serious surgery, it’s certainly possible they could do so again. For Brantley’s part, he spoke to the media today and had nothing but good things to say about the organization, as relayed by Mark Berman of Fox 26. It seems a reunion is certainly in the cards, though it will likely be at least somewhat contingent on Brantley’s continued progress.
With Brantley out of action, the Astros picked up Trey Mancini at the deadline to improve their outfield picture. He is likely heading into free agency himself, however, given that he has a mutual option for 2022, with those arrangements rarely exercised by both sides. If Brantley were to return to Houston, the club could potentially go with the same alignment they had earlier in the year, with Kyle Tucker in right, Chas McCormick in center and Brantley sharing left field and designated hitter duties with Yordan Alvarez.
Financially, there would be nothing preventing the Astros from bringing Brantley back. In the estimation of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource, the club has a 2022 payroll of around $179MM but only about $109MM committed for 2023. That doesn’t include raises for arbitration-eligible players, but there should still be some budget to work with even once those are factored in.