How Houston Astros latest roster move wildly contrasts conventional thinking

How Houston Astros latest roster move wildly contrasts conventional thinking
Uncle Mike is back! Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

Why am I hearing from Astros fans that the team hasn’t done enough to get better during this offseason?

You mean the team that just won the World Series? That’s made four of the last six World Series? That won their division by 16 games in 2022 and dropped only two games in the postseason? That has become the model for sports franchises in America?

Sure, the Astros haven’t spent dumb money, a 13-year contract for a 28-year-old shortstop, $86 million over two seasons for a 40-year-old pitcher who’s now tied as the highest-paid player in baseball history, or $185 million on an injury-prone, 16-game winning pitcher … that’s 16 games over the last three seasons combined.

Instead the Astros simply went out and made, not the richest, but the most important free agent signing, and I’m not even talking about Jose Abreau, the best first baseman available to fill a hole in the Astros batting order.

Michael Brantley will be back with the Astros next season.

Sometimes you don’t measure a player’s importance by statistics and salary. Otherwise the Dodgers and Yankees would be dripping in World Series rings. They’re not. Over the past two decades, they have one title each. The Astros have two.

Brantley is the piece that completes the Astros. It’s terrific that he’s been a .300 batter and clutch hitter over his four seasons in Houston. More important, he is everything that’s good and admirable about the team – a talented, productive player, strong leader and role model in the community.

Just like everybody else it seems in that Astros clubhouse.

That’s the confounding aura about the Astros. They are beloved in Houston, unparalleled recent excellence on the field and pillars of the community.

They are reviled everywhere else, lowdown dirty cheaters from 2017 who may or may not still be cheating. That last part surprised me, the “still” cheating. I talked with a prominent sports media figure from Philadelphia after the last World Series and he would not concede that the Astros won fair and square this time. He didn’t say the Astros were cheating. He was just asking questions. It was like watching the TV news.

It’s not certain where Brantley will play in the field or hit in the batting order. It doesn’t matter. He is a steady, respected presence on a veteran team whose players are mostly in the 20s, and their 5-man (or 6-man) pitching rotation all are under 30. He really could be some of the Astros’ Uncle Mike.

Brantley is coming off a serious injury, his success on the diamond may be a question mark, but we know this for sure, the Astros are better with Brantley on the team.

And the last thing 29 other teams need is the Astros to be better in 2023.

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