During the stretch run, particularly in the postseason, the Yankees offense had lots of issues making consistent contact. They struck out a lot and their offense got a bit one-dimensional at times. There is nothing wrong with having several home run hitters in the lineup, but some contact-oriented batters are welcome, too.
Michael Brantley, who played with the Houston Astros from 2019 to 2022, is now a free agent. The lefty-hitting outfielder fits the description above: he is not a zero on the power department, but is known for his excellent contact skills and competitive at-bats.
In 2022, the Brantley slashed .288/.370/.416 with 14 doubles, five home runs and a 127 wRC+ in 64 games and 277 plate appearances. For his career, he has hit a rock-solid .298/.356/.439 (118 wRC+).
His power output may be declining, but this xSLG (expected slugging percentage) chart indicates he still has some thump against fastballs and breaking balls:
Brantley has a career 95.6 percent contact rate on pitches inside the zone and a 90.7 percent contact rate overall, and is capable of hitting about 15 homers (which could be 20 in Yankee Stadium’s short porch) and 30 doubles with an average around .300 if healthy. He is as steady as they come.
There is one problem, though: he wound up undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder in August after not playing since late June.
We probably don’t need to remind you that Miguel Andújar, to provide an example, just wasn’t the same after injuring his labrum. While not every person has the same ability to recover, the fact that Brantley is already 35 and is coming off labrum surgery isn’t particularly encouraging.
The Yankees’ offense could use a hitter like him, but the 100 percent healthy version of him. Will the team that signs him get that player? Nobody can possibly know, which makes Brantley a gamble.
The Yankees’ plans at left field aren’t set in stone yet. They could go with Aaron Hicks, they could opt to play Oswaldo Cabrera there, or they may pursue a high-profile free agent like Brandon Nimmo. Andrew Benintendi is an option to be re-signed, too.
If the Yankees spend money in other positions, they may explore making a pitch to Brantley’s agent. However, like everything in life, it will likely depend on the price. The Yanks know he is a bit of a risk and probably won’t be looking to outbid everyone for his services, but if we talk lineup fits, Brantley is as good as they come.
He hits left-handed, which would bring some balance to the lineup. He has a high contact rate and is extremely difficult to strike out (10.8 percent strikeout rate both in 2022 and for his career) and is good for a few extra-base hits in the season, not to mention putting together really competitive plate appearances. He’d bring crucial depth to a lineup that was perilously shallow by season’s end.
Defensively, he is not as bad as you might think. In 249 innings in left field this year, he had 2 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and -1 Outs Above Average (OAA) in 2022. However, if you are the Yankees, you are not bringing him in for his glove.
At this point, the best-case scenario with Brantley would be having him for around 130-140 games and hitting around .300 with a home run total in the teens or in the low-20s and lots of two-baggers. The worst-case scenario, however, involves him rapidly declining or failing to recover his pre-surgery bat speed.
Whether the Yankees should take the risk or not would depend on his salary demands and what happens with some of their other alternatives such as Nimmo and Benintendi.