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Michael Brantley
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Offseason Lowdown

Lowdown: Astros Making Waves

by Nick Doran
Updated On: December 19, 2018, 1:15 am ET

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Astros Ink Brantley

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Astros are "closing in" on a two-year deal with Michael Brantley in the $32 million range. Brantley is one of the better all-around hitters in the majors and will offer a substantial upgrade to the already-potent Astros' offense. The 31-year-old outfielder batted a cool .309/.364/.468 with 17 home runs, 76 RBI, 89 runs scored and 12 stolen bases this past season. It was a nice return to form for the oft-injured veteran. He missed all but 11 games of the 2016 season with a shoulder injury that required multiple surgeries. His 2017 season was marred by an ankle injury that cost him about 70 games on the shelf. It is a bit surprising that Brantley would be willing to settle for a two-year contract, especially at his age. After a strong season in which he proved he is healthy and delivered a very sturdy stat line it is hard to believe he couldn't have held out for a longer deal. It seems he might have been more likely to get another couple of guaranteed seasons at $10-plus million now than at the conclusion of this contract, when he will be aging out at 33 years old and probably coming off a lesser year than the one he just had. Perhaps the allure of playing for a team as good as the Astros was worth leaving some money on the table.


Brantley's contact-oriented, line drive approach fits nicely into the well-rounded mindset of the Astros' lineup. He also brings a badly-needed left-handed bat to hit in the middle of what is otherwise a heavily right-handed batting order. The Astros struck out the second-fewest times in the major leagues this past season, behind only Brantley's former team the Indians. Brantley's 9.5 K% was second-best in the major leagues, behind only Andrelton Simmons of the Angels.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports says the Astros plan to rotate Brantley between left field, first base and designated hitter. With George Springer locked into the center field job, the addition of Brantley will push either veteran Josh Reddick or youngster Kyle Tucker out of the starting lineup. The 21-year-old Tucker struggled badly in 28 games last year as a rookie, but he is considered a consensus top-20 prospect in all of baseball. If he isn't going to crack the starting lineup the Astros will surely send him back to Triple-A for additional seasoning rather than bring him off the bench with the big club. Reddick is coming off a disappointing 2018 campaign that saw him hit just .242/.318/.400 with 17 homers and 47 RBI in 134 games. It was a big step back from the .314/.363/.484 slash line with 13 homers and 82 RBI he put up in 2017. The Astros are rumored to have been trying to unload Reddick on the trade market this winter but haven't found a taker yet. He seems to be the most likely to lose out on playing time as a result of the addition of Brantley. The guess here is their current plan would be to start Reddick for the first few weeks of the season, then play the service time game by bringing up Tucker after the team is guaranteed to get another year of control over him. Brantley has never played first base before but it was reported earlier this month that he was willing to give the position a try in order to add to his versatility, which could cut into Yuli Gurriel's playing time.


USA Today's Bob Nightengale reports that the Astros remain interested in Nelson Cruz even after agreeing to terms with Michael Brantley. Brantley is expected to spend some time in the designated hitter spot for the Astros, but it's possible the club will add a full-time DH in Cruz. The 38-year-old registered a .256/.342/.509 batting line with 37 home runs and 97 RBI this past season for the Mariners and would certainly add even more thump to the Astros' lineup. The Astros also need to add at least one good starting pitcher after losing Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel to free agency, and Lance McCullers to arm surgery. They are quickly running out of options as the top pitchers who were on the market have already signed contracts. If they aren't able to spend their money to prevent runs, maybe they will be forced to pivot to Cruz to try to pump up their offense instead.


Joe Frisaro of MLB.com reports that the Astros are "back in the mix" for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Frisaro writes that prospect outfielder Kyle Tucker "remains a target" in a potential trade, though it's unclear if the Astros are willing to part with him. It's possible they'd be more willing to do so after reportedly nearing a deal with Michael Brantley. The Dodgers, Reds, Padres, and Rays are also involved in talks for Realmuto, though there doesn't appear to be a frontrunner at this time. The Astros signed catcher Robinson Chirinos to a one-year, $5.75 million deal earlier this offseason, but he is 34 years old and perhaps better suited to a role as the backup catcher rather than an everyday guy. The team won't let his presence prevent them from snaring a top-flight catcher like Realmuto if they can get a deal done.


Free Agent Signings


Rangers signed RHP Lance Lynn to a three-year, $30 million contract. This deal came out last week but wasn't made official until Tuesday. The 31-year-old hurler went 10-10 with a 4.77 ERA in 156 2/3 innings for the Twins and Yankees in 2018 so it is a bit surprising that he was able to snare this much money from the Rangers. He missed all of 2016 because of Tommy John surgery. Despite the sub-par season he still has a nice 3.57 career ERA in 190 starts and 24 relief appearances. One good sign in what was otherwise a down season -- Lynn's 9.25 K/9 was the best strikeout rate of his career. He could make for a sneaky late-round flyer in fantasy drafts next spring even though he will be pitching in a ballpark that is not ideal for pitchers.


MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reports that free agent starter Matt Harvey has agreed to a contract with the Angels. It is a one-year, $11 million deal with another $3 million available through performance-based incentives, per Fancred's Jon Heyman. The former All-Star posted a 4.94 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 131/37 K/BB ratio in 155 innings between New York and Cincinnati in 2018. It was the third consecutive poor season for Harvey, but at least he proved he is fully healthy for the first time in a good long while. The Angels will hope he can return to the form that saw him put up ERAs of 2.73, 2.27 and 2.71 in his first three seasons with the Mets from 2012 to 2015 (he missed 2014 due to Tommy John surgery). Trading the Reds' ballpark for the Angels' can only help his fortunes.


Cubs signed INF Daniel Descalso to a two-year, $5 million contract. According to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com, Descalso will make $1.5 million in 2019 and $2.5 million in 2020, with a $3.5 million club option or $1M buyout for 2021. Descalso has a reputation as a fantasy dud, largely because he was not a good hitter at all while playing for the Cardinals for the first five years of his career. He has improved some at the plate in recent campaigns though -- he turned in an above-average .789 OPS this year for the Diamondbacks in 2018. He's capable of playing all over the infield, so he should be a handy piece for Cubs manager Joe Maddon. It will probably take multiple injuries to the Cubs' infield starters for Descalso to get enough at-bats for fantasy relevance however.


Nationals signed 1B Matt Adams to a one-year, $4 million contract with a mutual option for 2020. The Nationals traded Adams to the Cardinals in August, but he's officially back in the fold in Washington. Per Jon Heyman of Fancred, Adams will make $3 million in 2019 while the club option in 2020 is worth $4 million and carries a $1 million buyout. Adams batted .239 with 21 homers and a .786 OPS in 121 games this past season and makes for valuable insurance behind Ryan Zimmerman at first base.


Pirates signed RHP Jordan Lyles to a one-year contract. Lyles is guaranteed $2 million. As things stand now, the fifth spot in the Pirates rotation figures to come down to he and Nick Kingham, though it's possible the team will have room for both depending on whether Chris Archer and Joe Musgrove are ready to start the season on time. Lyles spent the bulk of 2018 with Padres until moving to the Brewers in August. He had a 4.79 ERA and a 40/11 K/BB ratio in 47 innings over eight starts last season. He had a 3.32 ERA in 40 2/3 innings out of the pen. His 8.61 K/9 was far and away the best of his career and it bumped up to an astonishing 12.12 K/9 in his 11 games with the Brewers at the end of the season, so perhaps the Pirates view him as a high-leverage setup man in the making.


Assorted Rumblings


Jon Morosi of MLB Network noted that the Angels have expressed interest in free agent backstop Yasmani Grandal. The Angels were one of the clubs that was in on Wilson Ramos before he signed with the Mets on Sunday, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them amp up their interest in Grandal now that the free agent market is thinning out at the position. He doesn't get a lot of fantasy attention but he probably should. He ranked fourth on the ESPN Player Rater among all catchers this past season by batting .241/.349/.466 with 24 home runs and 68 RBI in 140 games.


CC Sabathia received a $500,000 performance bonus from the Yankees for the 2018 season. It wasn't officially announced, but the Yankees included the figure in their final luxury tax payroll. "It was something that we did very private and weren’t looking to publicize, and I’ll just leave it at that," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. Sabathia was ejected from his final regular season start just six outs shy of 155 innings pitched, which would have triggered the bonus. Sabathia hit the Rays' Jesus Sucre in retaliation for Andrew Kittredge throwing a pitch behind Austin Romine. After being ejected, Sabathia said that he doesn't make decisions based on money and felt like "it was the right thing to do." He ended up getting the bonus anyway. Sabathia will be back with the Yankees in 2019 after agreeing to a one-year, $8 million deal last month. The 38-year-old workhorse went 9-7 with a fine 3.65 ERA in 29 starts in 2018. He has 246 career wins, ranking him second among all active pitchers behind only the 45-year-old Bartolo Colon, who has 247 wins.


Craig Mish of Sirius XM reports that the Marlins are one of several teams to show interest in Bud Norris. Miami would be a good landing spot for Norris since he would presumably have a shot to close there. The veteran right-hander posted a 3.59 ERA and 67/21 K/BB ratio over 57 2/3 innings while converting 28-of-33 save opportunities for the Cardinals last season. Norris will turn 34 in March. He spent the bulk of his career as a mediocre starting pitcher before finding new life as a reliever the past couple of seasons. His strikeout rate has spiked significantly out of the bullpen to the point where he can be a fantasy asset even if he isn't getting saves.


Jeff Passan of Yahoo writes that the Giants had "the most impressive presence" among the teams at Troy Tulowitzki's open workout on Tuesday. According to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, the Pirates are in on Troy Tulowitzki, but the A's are out. It's thought that Tulo would most like to be in the Bay Area, but the A's want to go in a different direction at second and the Giants don't have a starting job open for him. The chronically-injured shortstop was cut loose by the Blue Jays last week even though they still owe him $38 million. Any team can now sign him for the major league minimum salary. Pittsburgh might be Tulo's best opportunity to remain a starting shortstop on a competitive club, though it's possible more scenarios will open up once Manny Machado signs.


Quick Hits: Phillies signed INF Phil Gosselin to a minor league contract... Red Sox signed RHP Zach Putnam to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training... Pirates signed C Steven Baron to a minor league contract... Mets signed RHP Zach Lee to a minor league contract. The former highly-regarded prospect in the Dodgers' system, had a 3.65 ERA and 107/35 K/BB ratio over 145 2/3 innings this past season between the Rays' Double- and Triple-A affiliates... Royals signed OF Terrance Gore to a one-year contract. The 27-year-old Gore is 27-for-31 in stolen base attempts at the major league level, but he's only been given 19 plate appearances... Reds released 1B/3B D.J. Peterson... Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reports that Erasmo Ramirez is nearing a minor league deal with the Red Sox. The 28-year-old Ramirez missed time with a shoulder issue in 2018 while posting a 6.50 ERA over 10 starts... Indians acquired infielder Andruw Monasterio from the Nationals as the player to be named in the Yan Gomes trade. The Nationals had just acquired Monasterio from the Cubs in August in the Daniel Murphy deal. The 21-year-old hit .267/.363/.338 in high-A ball last season... Rangers re-signed RHP Matt Bush to a minor league contract. Bush is going to miss the first half of the season after elbow surgery... Mets signed OF Rajai Davis to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Davis, 38, batted only .224/.278/.281 over 216 plate appearances for the Indians last season, although he did steal 21 bases. The veteran speedster can play all three outfield spots and will compete for a bench job in spring training...

Nick Doran

Nick Doran is a baseball writer for Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter @RealNickDoran.