The Houston Astros will be without second baseman Jose Altuve for the start of the 2023 MLB season after he suffered a broken thumb on Saturday as part of Venezuela’s loss to Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Altuve, who will have surgery in the next few days to repair his finger, suffered the injury when he was hit in the hand by a pitch from Daniel Bard.
The Astros have not announced a timetable for Altuve’s return. The Baseball Prospectus injury database indicates that the average recovery time from a broken thumb for a batter is 34 missed days, or about five weeks. Of course, recovery can vary based on a number of factors, including the severity and situation of the team. The Astros will want to make sure Altuve is sturdy and healthy upon his return, suggesting they can take a more conservative approach.
With Altuve potentially sidelined as early as May at the earliest, the Astros now face the unenviable task of replacing his production atop their lineup. Last season, he hit .300/.387/.533 (160 OPS+) with 28 home runs in 141 games. His contributions were estimated at 5.1 wins over replacement, according to Baseball Reference. In turn, he earned his highest finish in the American League Most Valuable Player Award voting (fifth) since his win in 2017.
What options does Astros general manager Dana Brown have? Below we’ve highlighted some realistic candidates, internally and otherwise.
1. The internal choices
The most likely and simplest route for Brown and the Astros is to hand over the keystone to one or two players already in the organization. The top contenders are David Hensley and Mauricio Dubón.
Hensley, listed at an unusually tall 6-foot-6 for a middle infielder, made his big league debut last season. In 16 games, he hit .345/.441/.586. He has shown a strong eye for the plate as well as a skillful line-drive stroke. Hensley isn’t young in the conventional sense – he’ll be celebrating his 27th birthday just before Opening Day, but his lack of service makes him a potential part of the roster for the long haul if he proves his contact-driven ways can transfer against pitching from MLB quality. There is a league average on its head here.
Dubón, 28, is bouncing in both the league and the diamond. He came to Houston last May as part of a small trade with the San Francisco Giants, and he spent most of his time with the Astros in center field. Dubón has shown little life at the plate over the past two seasons, posting a 67 OPS+ in 452 at bats. He seems to be more sensibly deployed in a super-utility role, though in this case he provides OK insurance on Hensley.
The Astros don’t have many other realistic candidates in their organization. The only other infielders on the 40-player roster are Joe Perez and Rylan Bannon. Otherwise, minor league veteran Dixon Machado, who has played in more than 170 big league games, stands out as the most qualified option.
2. On the trading market
It’s hard to make big trades at this time of year as no team wants to send the wrong message to their clubhouse or fan base. The good news, in a sense, is that the Astros would have set their sights lower. They’re not looking for a star or a long-term match; they just want someone who can come in and do a skilled job of starting the season before it fades into the background.
It would make sense for the Astros to explore the market for players who have run out of options in the minor league. Teams are always wary of losing talent under waivers, which means they may be more inclined to trade so they can get something back. Alas, this year’s class of option-free infielders is uninspiring. Maybe the Chicago Cubs would say goodbye to Zach McKinstry?
This doesn’t seem like a situation where the Astros would be willing to take bad money from an unwanted contract. In other words, don’t expect them to save the Cubs on David Bote, or the St. Louis Cardinals on Paul DeJong.
There is another avenue the Astros can and will explore in the days to come.
3. In free agency
Predictably, given that it’s mid-March, there aren’t many attractive options left on the open market. José Iglesias is the most compelling name. He is out of contract, despite posting a 90 OPS+ in 118 games with the Colorado Rockies last season. However, he would be far behind on preparedness, requiring some time in the minors to shake off the rust.
The Astros could wait and see which players take advantage of their Article XX(B) free agent status. For those unfamiliar with the concept, individuals deemed Article XX(B) free agents who sign minor league pacts are eligible to opt out of their deals on various dates throughout the season, including prior to the opening day, if they are not added to their current team’s active roster. Some infielders who could potentially benefit from that clause: César Hernández (Tigers), Rougned Odor (Padres) and Ehire Adrianza (Braves).
Are any of the above players better than what Hensley could be? Probably not; there are often reasons why that class of player has to settle for a minor league arrangement at that point in their career.
Still, there’s something to be said about adding another contingency plan if the opportunity arises – after all, what happens if Hensley himself suffers an injury between now and Altuve’s return? The Astros owe it to themselves to research the market and see what’s on offer. Even if the options prove undesirable, they can take comfort in knowing that Altuve will be back at some point – and that the rest of their roster is good enough to keep their record afloat until their second baseman makes his next hit. takes.