HOUSTON -- The Astros added their first big puzzle piece of the offseason by reaching an agreement on a two-year contract with free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley, giving them a veteran left-handed bat in the middle of their already potent lineup for 2019.
Brantley, coming off an All-Star season in which he remained healthy, played 143 games and posted a .832 OPS, is a perfect fit for Houston. The Astros return a young core of right-handed hitters, led by Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and George Springer, as well as veterans Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel. The club earlier in the offseason traded for veteran infielder Aledmys Diaz and signed catcher Robinson Chirinos.
Still, the Astros have some holes to fill before the start of Spring Training, so let's take a look at three things they could do between now and the time they start camp in West Palm Beach, Fla., in mid-February:
1. Find a veteran starting pitcher
The Astros have lost Charlie Morton in free agency to the Rays and Lance McCullers to Tommy John surgery for '19. Lefty Dallas Keuchel remains a free agent and is unlikely to return, but the rotation should remain a strength of the club.
The Astros have the luxury of returning Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in the final year of their deals in '19, and Collin McHugh is being moved to the rotation after a terrific season out of the bullpen. There are some intriguing young rotation depth candidates in Josh James and Framber Valdez (and prospect Forrest Whitley later in the season), but the club is in pursuit of a veteran arm.
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2. Catcher … maybe
If the Astros head into '19 with the veteran Chirinos and Max Stassi as their two catchers, they'll take it. Stassi is an excellent defensive catcher who tailed off offensively in the second half of last season, and Chirinos still has some pop in his bat, even if he's slipped defensively. It's a workable platoon.
Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto is likely to be traded at some point, perhaps this offseason, and the Astros certainly have an interest. That could require swallowing hard and giving up top outfield prospect and Florida native Kyle Tucker, but the addition of Brantley gives them a solid, veteran outfield: Brantley in left, Springer in center and Reddick in right. Does that make Tucker expendable?
3. Designate a hitter
Evan Gattis started the majority of the Astros' games at designated hitter last season (106 of 162 in the regular season) but is a free agent and likely won't return. Houston posted a .750 OPS as a team in the DH spot last year, which ranked 10th in the American League. For a position that requires hitting, the Astros feel they need more out of the DH.
Free agent Nelson Cruz would be a great fit on a one-year deal, and it would give him a shot to win that elusive World Series ring, but the Astros have enough versatility that they could cover the DH without making any further additions. Diaz and Brantley could both get lots of at-bats at DH, along with Gurriel, who's going to be moving around the diamond more. Springer and Altuve have made occasional starts at DH as well.
Adding Cruz would be a luxury, but don't count it out just yet.