Astros general manager Dana Brown briefed reporters including Chandler Rome of the Houston Chroniclethat second baseman Jose Altuve has a broken right thumb and will have surgery in the next few days. There is no timetable for his return. Altuve left last night’s game in the World Baseball Classic after being hit on the hand by a pitch. ESPN’s Marly Rivera had previously reported that Altuve had indeed suffered a fracture, as feared.
The news clearly comes as a major blow to the defending World Series champions, as Altuve has been a cornerstone of the team for many years. Not only has he been reliable in his outstanding performances, but he has never really dealt with a serious injury until now. In the last ten full seasons, going back to 2012, Altuve has never played less than 124 games in an individual campaign. That low number came in 2019, when a hamstring injury put him on the injury list for just over a month. Other than that, all of his trips to the IL have been pretty minor, meaning he’s probably now facing the longest absence of his career. While the club has not given a timetable for Altuve’s return, there is no doubt he will face a significant absence. Bryce Harper suffered a fractured thumb last year and ended up missing two months of the season. Every injury and recovery is different, but it would be fair to expect a similar path for the Astros second baseman.
Altuve, 33 in May, was one of the better players in the league at the time, but is going through one of his best seasons to date. He hit 28 home runs, stole 18 bases and walked in a career-high 10.9% of his trips to the plate. His .300/.387/.533 batting line resulted in a 164 wRC+, a career record that indicated he was 64% better than the league’s average hitter. Defensive stats were split on the value of his glove work, but he still ranked as being worth 6.6 wins over replacement by FanGraphs, his highest score in that department since the infamous sign-stealing season in 2017.
The exact date of his return will depend on how long it takes to heal and how much time he needs to get back into shape after being discharged, but it looks like it will be a decent part of the schedule either way. Although Altuve will return for the final months of the season, the club will have to figure out how to man the cornerstone for now. Maurice Dubon, David Hensley And Ryan Bannon are the options on the 40-man roster, while Dixon Macado is in the camp as a non-roster invitee.
Dubón is the most experienced of the bunch, having played in 262 big league-games. He is capable of playing any outfield position and the three infield spots to the left of first base, and is widely regarded as a good defenseman wherever he is. The problem is in offense, as he hit only .244/.287/.366 in his career for a wRC+ of 77. It’s a pretty similar story for Machado, who is considered solid with the glove at shortstop, second or third base, but he has only hit .226/.285/.292 in the majors for a wRC+ of 56. He is not currently on the 40-man and will not be optional if selected at some point. Hensley had a great debut last year, but in a small sample of just 16 games. However, he also was good in Triple-A, batting .298/.420/.478 in 104 games last year. Bannon has only five MLB games to his name, but bounced around the exemption wire last year due to strong work in the minors.
That group gives the Astros plenty of options, but none of them are expected to replace Altuve’s production. It is also possible for the club to seek some help outside the organisation, but at this time of year there are challenges in doing so. The free agent market has been largely taken over, which makes veteran journeymen like it Andrewton Simmons And Jonathan Villar as some of the best options available. Trades are also difficult to execute at this time of year, with most teams generally feeling satisfied with their rosters as opening day approaches. Maybe the Yankees are willing to make a deal Isiah Kiner-Falefa or Gleyber Torres with young people like Anthony Volpe And Oswald Peraza push for more playing time, but they may also prefer to hold on to those players in case the younger guys struggle with their first extended taste of Major League action. As Spring Training draws to a close, teams will make their final cuts and a few more players will come loose, though they may not be much of a difference compared to Houston’s internal options.
However the club decides to play things, they will undoubtedly be in a lesser position at second base for a while. They will certainly still be in good shape overall, with a lineup of great hitters like Alex Breman, Kyle Tucker, Josh Abreu And Jordan Alvarez. They’ve made the ALCS incredibly over the past six years, going to the World Series in four of those seasons and winning it twice. They seem ready to be strong again, but they will now be challenged by a few notable absences in the beginning as Lance McCullers Jr. also opens the season on the injured list.