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World Champion Astros Lose Leadoff Man Jose Altuve With Fractured Hand

World Champion Astros Lose Leadoff Man Jose Altuve With Fractured Hand

Even the world champion Houston Astros are not immune to the wave of injuries that have swept through players who skipped spring training for the World Baseball Classic.

Star second baseman José Altuve is the latest to suffer a major injury over the past week, joining Edwin Diaz of the New York Mets and Freddie Freeman of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Altuve, who plays for Venezuela, suffered a broken hand when he was hit by a pitch on Saturday night and will be sidelined indefinitely.

Diaz will miss the season after injuring his knee while celebrating a WBC win, while Freeman pulled out of the tournament after injuring his hamstring while playing for Canada. He hopes to have it ready by the March 30 opening.

As a result of these and smaller mishaps, the timing of the 20-team tournament has come under fire for taking players away from their teams during spring training. Although it is played once every three years (with a 2020 timeout due to COVID-19), critics have suggested it be played in November, when major league teams are trying to sell tickets for the upcoming season.

The WBC, last played in 2017, runs from March 8-21 and is played at various stadiums before the championship game at LoanDepot Park in Miami. Players are paid to participate and insured against injury.

Altuve’s injury is a serious blow to the Astros, who are looking not only to retain their World Series title, but also to win the American League Championship Series for the seventh straight season. No team has won back-to-back World Series since the New York Yankees won three in a row in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

Altuve will need surgery to repair his hand, according to Astros general manager Dan Brown, and could be out for months.

The diminutive leadoff man, the shortest man in the majors at 5’6″, is a three-time American League shortstop who once led the league in hits four straight years. He spent his entire career with the Astros, who gave him a seven-year, $163.5 million contract through the 2024 season.

Since breaking into the big leagues in 2011, Altuve has been a durable player, missing time only in 2014, when he suffered a hamstring injury.

The pint-sized slugger twice hit 31 home runs during the regular season, but is even more lethal in the postseason, with 23 home runs in 79 games.

Altuve has a career batting average of .307, along with an on-base percentage of .362 and an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .830.

A two-time major league leader in stolen bases, he scored at least 100 runs in a season three times. Last year he hit .300 with 28 home runs and 18 stolen bases. He is also a strong defender at second base.

Altuve’s resume looks like it belongs to a future Hall of Famer. An eight-time All-Star, he was also the American League Most Valuable Player, AL Championship Series MVP, two-time World Champion and Gold Glove winner. He won six Silver Sluggers as the top hitter at his position.

Altuve, who turns 33 in May, shows no signs of slowing down.

Replacing him will not be easy. Candidates range from David Hensley, Rylan Bannon and Mauricio Dubon on the University of Houston’s 40-man roster to non-roster player Dixon Machado. The versatile Dubon has the most experience in that group.

Brown could also search what’s left of the free agent market, which still includes four-time Gold Glove player Andrelton Simmons, or trade with another club.

Gleyber Torres or Isaih Kiner-Kalefa, who played second and shortstop for the Yankees last year, could be targeted, but are pushed by rookies Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza.

Houston’s 2023 roster will certainly look different from the one that won the World Series from Philadelphia last fall.

Gone are such key contributors as pitcher Justin Verlander, who jumped to the Mets in free agency after winning the American League Cy Young Award; catcher Christian Vasquez, now at Minnesota; first baseman Yuli Gurriel, who signed with Miami; and outfielder Trey Mancini, who joined the Chicago Cubs.

Even without Altuve, the Astros still have a strong offense, led by Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and newly signed José Abreu. However, due to injuries and the departure of free agents, the team may find it difficult to match its 106-56 record from last season.

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