One of the biggest outfield chips on the market has landed as the Houston Astros inked Michael Brantley to a 2-year, $32 million dollar deal this week. Kiley nailed the AAV, but had Brantley getting 3/$48. The crowdsource also had him down for three years, but at $15 mil per. Brantley slots right into the left field opening, pushing Tony Kemp to the bench and clouding the outlook of prospect Kyle Tucker. More on that later, let’s look at Brantley first.
Brantley quietly had a fantastic 2018 season. He put up a .309/.364/.468 line with 17 HR, 12 SB, 76 RBI, and 89 R in 631 PA. His 124 wRC+ was 16th-best among outfielders and 41st among the 140 qualified hitters leaguewide. Brantley missed a little time at the beginning of the season recovering from ankle surgery, but once he returned, he was healthy for the first time since 2015. He played just 101 games in 2016-17 combined and his 143 in 2018 was a four-year high.
His elite contact ability is a rarity in today’s game and it doesn’t really compromise his power. Only Andrelton Simmons (7%) bested Brantley’s fantastic 10% strikeout rate among qualified hitters and Brantley’s insane 4% swinging strike rate was tops, just ahead of new teammate Alex Bregman (4.3%). Compare that to Joey Gallo (19%) and Javier Baez (18%) on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Health will no doubt drive the success of this contract. If he can play about 130 games in both seasons, this will be a major win for Houston. He’s been about a 3.5 WAR player per 550 PA the last five years so there’s even some room for decline while still being worth this deal. As I mentioned earlier, this deal does cast some doubt on the playing time path of prospect Kyle Tucker.
It’s still only mid-December, so the Astros aren’t done making moves and could even re-open Tucker’s path, but right now he’s on the outside looking in with both Kemp and even Jake Marisnick likely ahead of him in the pecking order. The Astros likely don’t want him in any sort of 4th/5th OF capacity where he’s playing just a couple times a week given that he’s just 22 years old and still developing. He dominated Triple-A for 100 games last year (155 wRC+), but was stymied at the big league level in a couple samples totaling just 72 PA of a 28 wRC+. This does create a buying opportunity, though.
He wasn’t necessarily expensive with a 207 ADP in early NFBC drafts before that deal, but that should push back toward 250 or later in future drafts. Be prepared to hold him in reserve for at least a couple weeks, but the payoff could be massive if he gets his chance. He’s done a nice George Springer imitation in the minors the last two seasons, going 20/20 in both with solid slash lines. The Astros might move Josh Reddick and/or Tyler White to clear some space, but even if that happens, I don’t see Tucker starting the season on the MLB roster.
There’s also been talk of Tucker possibly being involved in a J.T. Realmuto trade which would make me cry. Sure, he’d get an easier path to playing time, but it’d be in that cavernous stadium and disastrous lineup. I’d rather take my chances with him in Houston. I expect Brantley’s cost rise to a bit from his 121 ADP, though he’ll likely still be available outside the top 100. White will likely hold steady around the mid-200s, Reddick and Kemp will remain OF afterthoughts (450+), and Tucker takes a short-term hit, but becomes a strong reserve target.