The Astros’ announcement on Monday that they officially inked Michael Brantley to a two-year deal lacked all of the drama and suspense from the prior week, when for a few hours, it looked like they had lost out on the free-agent outfielder.
It all ended well for Brantley and for his fans in Houston, in the form of a newly signed deal worth $32 million that will keep the 33-year-old outfielder with the Astros through the 2022 season.
But for a murky few hours last Wednesday, Brantley was rumored to be headed for Toronto -- until he wasn’t. Reports emerged from north of the border that he was signing with the Blue Jays and they were confirmed by several credible news sources from outlets in Canada and the United States.
Then came the pivot. Within hours of those initial reports, word leaked out that Brantley had re-signed with Houston.
“I got a lot of goodbye texts first,” Brantley said while speaking to reporters Monday on Zoom. “And then two hours later, I got, ‘We’re really glad to have you back. I’m glad you didn’t go to Toronto.’”
Exactly what transpired in the time that passed between the two differing reports is murky, but general manager James Click, while pointing out they had been in contact with Brantley throughout the offseason, hinted that the Toronto element may have created an added urgency.
“I don’t know if there’s a substitute for the feeling that something might be going away to really make you focus on how much you value something,” Click said. “I think it’s impossible to say that it didn’t on some level spur us on, but we had been having conversations since even before the offseason started.
“For them to culminate on that day was probably on some level a reaction to that, but also the culmination of a couple months of work.”
Brantley acknowledged he was “close” to signing with the Blue Jays.
“We were close, we were in talks, there was interest on both sides,” he said. “But it’s the offseason, it’s free agency, everything worked out to where I want to be. I enjoyed my time here in Houston and I’m looking forward to coming back.”
The contract is practically identical to the one he signed two years ago. Brantley -- also known to teammates as “Uncle Mike” -- indicated he will be looking for the World Series title that eluded the team the first time around. The Astros lost the World Series to the Nationals in 2019 and reached Game 7 of the AL Championship Series before dropping the series to the Rays last year.
“Having the run that I did the last two years and having the player relationships that I did, I really wanted to come back here and kind of finish this thing off,” Brantley said. “There’s unfinished business. I’m really glad to be back with the guys, and the relationships I developed the last two years. I look forward to winning a championship.”
Over the past two seasons, Brantley batted .309/.370/.497 for Houston (a 126 OPS+), with 27 home runs and 112 RBIs in 194 games. Last year, he hit .300 with 15 doubles, five homers and 22 RBIs over 46 games with an .840 OPS.
Brantley excelled in the postseason, hitting. 346 with three homers and 11 RBIs over 13 games and finishing with an 11-game hitting streak.
“Michael’s as valuable to this franchise off the field as he is on it, in terms of the leadership he brings to the clubhouse, and in terms of who he is a person,” Click said. “Having him back does a real good thing for our lineup, but even more it does a real great thing for our clubhouse.”