Michael Brantley isn't leaving Southeast Texas after all.
Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston reported the veteran outfielder agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal. It looked like Brantley was going north of the border until ESPN's Jeff Passan reported he hadn't reached a formal agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Prior to Brantley's return, the Astros were projected to have a $157.2 million Opening Day payroll, eighth-highest in MLB, per Cot's Baseball Contracts. Assuming Brantley's salary is split equally between 2021 and 2022, it would jump up to fourth, ahead of the Los Angeles Angels ($172.7 million).
That's exactly where Houston has been in recent seasons as the franchise retained many of its best young players.
When the Astros won the World Series in 2017, they were 18th in payroll for their year-end 40-man roster ($134.1 million). They subsequently climbed to ninth ($163.8 million) in 2018, eighth ($169.8 million) in 2019 and fourth ($81.4 million) in 2020.
Ownership has clearly put a ceiling on how much it is willing to spend.
Houston never looked like much of a threat to re-sign Gerrit Cole, whose nine-year, $324 million contract with the New York Yankees set a record for a pitcher. George Springer just agreed to a six-year, $150 million deal with the Blue Jays, too, per multiple reports.
Retaining Brantley at least shows a good level of commitment to capitalizing on a championship window. This isn't the case of the front office slowly dismantling a strong roster for the sake of payroll flexibility, like what is happening with the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Cleveland.
General manager James Click may have to make some difficult decisions next offseason, though, with Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers all hitting free agency.
For now, Houston is poised once again to contend for a World Series title.