When the Astros announced that Michael Brantley was going for a second opinion on his injured shoulder, it felt like the writing was on the wall in giant fluorescent letters. Surgery was likely on the way, and with it, the end of his 2022 season.
And Friday it was announced that he had that surgery earlier this week. With Brantley hitting the free agent market this off-season, there is a good chance his Astro career is over. Looking back at Jake Meyers’ shoulder injury, Brantley might not be ready to play when the 2023 season begins. He also may not be signed by anyone in the offseason, and he could possibly decide to hang it up for his career.
If he does leave, he leaves a team in the Astros that got (except for this injury-shortened season) all they could expect when they signed him in the offseason before the 2019 season. In 2018, when the Astros lost to the Red Sox in the ALCS, they were a very right-handed centric lineup. Of the players who got the most at bats only Josh Reddick was a pure lefty, and of course, they also had switch hitter Marwin Gonzalez. The main four outfielders were George Springer (.265 BA/ .346 OBP/ .780 OPS), Reddick (.242/.318/.718), Jake Marisnick (.211/.275/.674) and Gonzalez (.247/.327/.733). They weren’t disasters, but certainly, the Astros could use an outfielder who did a better job of making consistent contact and a better batting average.
Enter Uncle Mike……
After being drafted by the Brewers out of high school in 2005, he was traded to the Guardindians in October 2008 in a trade for CC Sabathia before Brantley ever played a game for Milwaukee. In ten seasons with Cleveland, he was a three-time All-Star who, when he was healthy, was a hitting machine putting up a slash of .295 BA/ .351 OBP/ .781 OPS. His best season with Cleveland was when he came in 3rd in the MVP race in 2014 with 45 doubles, 20 HRs, 97 RBIs, and a .327 BA.
So, what did he do in his 3-1/2 seasons with the Astros? Well, he was a two-time All-Star, who put up an excellent slash (in a time of declining offense) of .306 BA/ .368 OBP/ .832 OPS. He gave the Astros lineup some left handed balance as the team let Reddick go after 2019 and added Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker to the mix. In addition, he undoubtedly helped the young players, especially the young lefties Alvarez and Tucker, on what it takes to be a professional hitter.
He wasn’t the greatest at anything but was very good at almost everything. He struggled a bit against left-handed pitchers, as many left-handed hitters do, but he was a great weapon against the 75% of the pitchers who are right-handed. He was a solid outfielder and a good and smart base runner. He was the kind of grizzled veteran that a team with many youngsters needs badly.
If we have seen the last of Michael Brantley, it will be sad for the Astros’ fans. We will no longer see one of the prettiest swings in the game knocking the ball around for our team. But we have good memories of his time with the Astros to carry us forward.