Jose Altuve To Undergo Surgery On Fractured Thumb

Astros general manager Dana Brown informed reporters, including Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, that second baseman Jose Altuve has a fractured right thumb and will undergo surgery in the “coming 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. Marly Rivera of ESPN had previously relayed that Altuve had indeed suffered a fracture, as feared.

The news obviously comes as a big blow to the defending World Series champions, as Altuve has been a cornerstone of the team for years. Not only has he been reliable in his excellent performance, but he’s also never really dealt with a significant injury until now. Over the past ten full seasons, going back to 2012, Altuve has never played fewer than 124 games in an individual campaign. That low tally came in 2019, when a hamstring strain sent him to the injured list for just over a month. Apart from that, all his trips to the IL have been fairly minor, meaning he is now likely facing the most lengthy absence of his career. Though the club hasn’t provided a timetable for Altuve’s return, there’s no doubt that he’s facing a significant absence. Bryce Harper suffered a thumb fracture last year and ended up missing two months of the season. Every injury and recovery is different, but it would be reasonable to expect a similar path ahead for the Astros second baseman.

Altuve, 33 in May, has been one of the better players in the league in that time but is coming off 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-high figure that indicated he was 64% better than the league average hitter. Defensive metrics were split on the value of his glovework, but he was still ranked as being worth 6.6 wins above replacement by FanGraphs, his highest tally in that department since the infamous sign-stealing season of 2017.

The exact date of his return will depend upon how long it takes to heal and then how much time he needs to get back into game shape after his layoff, but it seems like it will be a decent chunk of the schedule either way. While Altuve figures to be back for the latter months of the season, the club will have to figure out how to man the keystone for the time being. Mauricio Dubón, David Hensley and Rylan Bannon are the options on the 40-man roster, while Dixon Machado is in camp as a non-roster invitee.

Dubón is the most experienced of the bunch, having played in 262 games at the big league level. He’s capable of playing each outfield position and the three infield spots to the left of first base, and is generally considered to be a good defender anywhere he’s placed. The problem is on offense, as he’s hit just .244/.287/.366 in his career for a wRC+ of 77. It’s a fairly similar story for Machado, who is considered solid with the glove at shortstop, second or third base, but has hit just .226/.285/.292 in the majors for a wRC+ of 56. He’s not currently on the 40-man and won’t be optionable if he’s selected at some point. Hensley had a great debut last year, but in a tiny sample of just 16 games. He was also good in Triple-A, however, hitting .298/.420/.478 over 104 games last year. Bannon has just five MLB games under his belt but has bounced around the waiver wire in the past year due to strong work in the minors.

That group gives the Astros plenty of options but none of them will be expected to replace the production of Altuve. It’s also possible that the club could look outside the organization for some help, but there are challenges to doing that at this time of year. The free agent market has been largely picked over, leaving veteran journeymen like Andrelton Simmons and Jonathan Villar as some of the best options available. Trades are also difficult to line up at this time of year, with most teams generally feeling settled with their rosters as Opening Day approaches. Perhaps the Yankees would be willing to deal Isiah Kiner-Falefa or Gleyber Torres with youngsters like Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza pushing for more playing time, but they might also prefer to hang onto those players just in case the younger guys struggle in their first extended tastes of major league action. As Spring Training winds down, teams will make their final cuts and a few more players will shake loose, though they might not be huge difference makers relative to the in-house options in Houston.

However the club decides to play things, they will no doubt be in a lesser position at second base for a while. They will surely still be in good shape overall, with a lineup of great hitters like Alex Bregman, Kyle Tucker, José Abreu and Yordan Alvarez. They have incredibly made it to the ALCS in each of the past six years, going to the World Series in four of those seasons and winning it twice. They seem poised to be strong yet again, but they will now be challenged by a couple of notable absences in the early going, as Lance McCullers Jr. will open the season on the injured list as well.

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