The Astros have already crossed one item off their to-do list this winter, re-signing setup man Rafael Montero to a three-year pact. They reportedly had strong interest in first baseman Anthony Rizzo before he re-signed with the Yankees, and while they still have a hole at first base, they’re also in the market for a left-handed-hitting corner outfielder, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Outfield help is a natural target for the Astros, who saw Michael Brantley go down with a season-ending shoulder injury this summer (which ultimately required surgery). He’s now a free agent, leaving the Astros’ projected outfield mix consisting of right fielder Kyle Tucker, center field options Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers, and designated hitter/occasional left fielder Yordan Alvarez.
The 25-year-old Alvarez did log a career-high 467 innings in left field this season, and if the team were to commit to playing him more regularly there, the search could expand to include lefty-swinging corner outfielders and designated hitters. That said, Alvarez has had multiple knee surgeries in the past, despite his youth, so it’s sensible enough if the team prefers to limit his time on the field to help keep his bat in the lineup.
Brantley himself would ostensibly be an option, of course. He said late in the season that he expects to be ready for Spring Training, and if that’s the case, there aren’t many better bets in the “professional hitter” category than the five-time All-Star. Over the past five seasons, Brantley has batted a combined .307/.367/.465 with 57 home runs, 134 doubles and eight triples in 2240 plate appearances. He’s fanned in just 10.6% of those trips to the plate and walked at an eight percent clip as well.
Generally speaking, it’s not a great free-agent market for outfielders this winter. Aaron Judge, of course, is the top free agent, while center fielder Brandon Nimmo ranks a distant second. Beyond that pair, there are plenty of options to peruse, but the majority come with some degree of red flag.
If Houston prefers to pursue a younger option, any of Andrew Benintendi, Cody Bellinger or Joey Gallo could make sense — although the latter two are particularly dependent on Houston’s appetite for taking on a rebound candidate. Both Gallo and Bellinger have seen their once prodigious offensive profiles tank in recent seasons. Bellinger is likely available on a one-year deal as he looks to rebuild some stock. Benintendi, meanwhile, saw his season end on Sept. 2 due to a broken hamate bone. Masataka Yoshida, star outfielder for Japan’s Orix Buffaloes, will reportedly be posted for MLB clubs, but whether his outstanding production in NPB will carry over to MLB is a total unknown at this point.
Alternatives include longtime D-backs outfielder David Peralta, now-former Padres left fielder Jurickson Profar and well-traveled Corey Dickerson. Peralta is 35 and coming off a tepid finish to the 2022 season with the Rays. Profar’s age, bat-to-ball skills and former prospect status could all be appealing, but a .237/.331/.364 slash over the past two seasons isn’t especially eye-catching. Dickerson has had similar production but in a part-time role and is three years older.
The trade market, of course, presents myriad opportunities. The division-rival Mariners were known to be exploring trades involving Jesse Winker earlier this month. Minnesota’s Max Kepler is an oft-speculated trade candidate this winter, and switch-hitters Ian Happ (Cubs) and Anthony Santander (Orioles) were both discussed by their respective clubs in the weeks leading up to this past summer’s trade deadline.
Whatever path the ’Stros take, some degree of outfield addition feels like a foregone conclusion. The 26-year-old Meyers hit just .227/.269/.313 in his return from last offseason’s shoulder surgery. McCormick, 27, posted solid overall numbers, but the overwhelming majority of his production came against left-handed pitchers; he hit .340/.409/.563 against southpaws but only .207/.301/.344 against fellow righties. Tucker, Meyers, McCormick, Alvarez and utilityman Mauricio Dubon are the only outfielders on the 40-man roster at present. Tucker and Alvarez are the only left-handed hitters who are locked into lineup spots.