The Astros announced Friday that outfielder Michael Brantley, who has been out since June due to a shoulder issue, underwent an arthroscopic procedure to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The surgery will end his season.
Since Brantley was placed on the injured list, the Astros have been vague regarding the nature of Brantley’s injury. General manager James Click said in July that there were no updates on Brantley other than that the team was waiting for inflammation in his shoulder to subside. Acting manager Joe Espada (filling in while Dusty Baker was out due to Covid-19) said earlier this week that Brantley was seeking a second opinion.
Friday’s announcement is the first indication of structural damage within the shoulder. This is the second time in Brantley’s career that he’s required surgery on this shoulder; he also suffered a small tear in his labrum late in the 2015 campaign and eventually underwent surgery that November.
Brantley, 35, is the second season of a two-year, $32M contract with the Astros. It’s the second consecutive two-year, $32M deal he’s signed with Houston, where he’s now played since the 2019 campaign. He’s appeared in 64 games and taken 277 plate appearances this season, batting .288/.370/.418 with five homers, 14 doubles and a triple. In all, Brantley has batted a combined .306/.368/.464 in just over 1600 regular-season plate appearances as an Astro, plus an additional 211 plate appearances of .314/.376/.408 production in the postseason.
If that’s the end of Brantley’s run with the Houston franchise, he’ll go down as an immensely successful veteran signing. There’s no option on Brantley’s contract, so he’s set to become a free agent in a couple months’ time. The Astros did not provide a timetable for when he might return to playing. The Astros’ announcement added that Click will speak to reporters in a couple hours, so further updates could be provided at that time.
The ’Stros have been dealing with Brantley’s absence for some time already, most regularly turning to Chas McCormick, Yordan Alvarez and Aledmys Diaz in his absence. Houston acquired Trey Mancini from the Orioles prior to the Aug. 2 trade deadline, but Baker has voiced a reluctance to play him in the outfield, given Mancini’s limited outfield work in recent seasons. (More broadly, he’s opted to sit Mancini nearly as often as start him since the trade, much to the chagrin of Astros fans.)
Subtracting Brantley from the outfield mix entirely puts a damper on the potential postseason roster, as players like McCormick and Diaz — generally viewed as depth/bench options — will now be pressed into more full-time duty. Add in the ongoing struggles of center fielder Jake Meyers, who’s batting just .218/.260/.328 this season (and .147/.205/.221 over his past 23 games), and the outfield is at least a potential area of concern for the remainder of the year. It also stands out as a natural area of focus for Click and his staff in the coming offseason, whether they pursue a Brantley reunion or look for alternatives on the free-agent and/or trade markets.