After a relatively quiet off-season for the Astros with the signing of a couple of smaller name relievers, Ryne Stanek and Pedro Baez, being the early highlight, things have picked up since the onset of the international signing period on January 15.
Since that point – the following have happened in quick succession:
- The Astros made an expected big splash when they signed 22-year-old OF Pedro Leon out of Cuba, who had long been connected to the Astros as a landing spot after defecting in 2019.
- OF George Springer signed a 6 yr / $150 MM contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, officially ending any chance of his returning to the Astros.
- The Astros came to an agreement with catcher Jason Castro on a 2 yr/ $7 MM deal to return to the organization that drafted him and where he originally played in the majors.
- The Astros designated pitcher Humberto Castellanos for assignment to open up a spot for Castro on the 40 man roster.
- The Blue Jays “reportedly” came to an agreement with OF Michael Brantley on a 3 year deal, pairing him up with his good friend Springer. Before the day was complete, the Blue Jays released a statement that no such agreement with Brantley was in place.
- “Sources” stated that the Astros had come to an agreement with Brantley on a 2 yr/ $32 MM deal, identical to the one he so ably fulfilled in 2019 and 2020.
- The Astros traded Cionel Perez to the Reds for minor league catcher Luke Berryhill, again opening a spot on the 40 man roster which is assumed to be set aside for the official re-signing of Brantley.
The re-signing of Michael Brantley looms as a huge gap filler as frankly the only sure thing in the outfield at this point is Kyle Tucker, who was a breakout starter in the shortened 2020 season. The 4th OF spot vacated by Josh Reddick‘s free agency is likely going to be filled by Myles Straw or Chas McCormick. But the question still facing the Astros is how to fill the Grand Canyon created by the loss of Springer.
One school of thought is that the return of Brantley allows the organization to slowly bring along uber-prospect Pedro Leon, who last played in the Cuban National Series League (approx. equivalent to AAA) in 2019 putting up a .383 BA/ .467 OBP/ 1.256 OPS slash with 15 HRs and 36 RBIs in 33 games. This is the same league that Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez played in when they were in Cuba. It would make some sense to let him get his feet wet in the American minor leagues for a year and then contend for a spot heading into the 2022 season.
However, there is another way to look at this. The return of Brantley gives the Astros a very solid top 7 to their batting order with Jose Altuve, Brantley, Alex Bregman, Alvarez, Carlos Correa, Tucker and Gurriel. The eighth spot would be in the hands of catchers Martin Maldonado and Castro, who would be expected to provide average catcher offensive production. So, looking at this another way, this would seem to allow for adding someone with a big upside like Leon to a lineup that should be able to carry an inexperienced hitter.
The safe thing would be to let him age a bit on the vine. But look at some of the success stories from 2020 for the Astros. Cristian Javier leapt up and grabbed a rotation spot after only 11 innings at AAA. Blake Taylor was the main lefty out of the bullpen after 11.1 innings at AAA. Both Enoli Paredes and Andre Scrubb pitched significant innings out of the bullpen with no experience above AA. Luis Garcia looked good and he never pitched above A+ level.
Does that mean that Leon will produce well with minimal minor league experience? Will he struggle like some of the other inexperienced pitchers the Astros brought up like Humberto Castellanos, Nivaldo Rodriguez and Carlos Sanabria? Sure, the Astros debuted a ton of pitchers in 2020 due to need as much as anything else. However, they only made one minor trade to pick up Brooks Raley when they were faced with a shortage of pitchers due to COVID and injuries. They showed no hesitation in bringing up players with talent, yet lacking experience…..like Pedro Leon.
That does not mean that Leon would have to be on the roster immediately out of spring training, but he should be on speed dial.
So, do you think that bringing Brantley back allows the Astros to delay the promotion of Pedro Leon or hasten it?