Posted on November 3, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Cleveland Indians have been quick to answer one of the most pressing questions facing them this offseason. On Friday, the club announced that they have picked up the $12 million option on Michael Brantley for the 2018 season. The Indians will also pick up the $3 million option on pitcher Josh Tomlin. Bringing Tomlin back was a no-brainer, but there wasn’t absolute certainty on Brantley returning to Cleveland in 2018.
Brantley’s health was the biggest reason why the Indians may have chosen to pass on his option. He missed nearly all of 2016 with a shoulder injury and was limited to just 90 games this past season because of injuries. Brantley sprained his ankle in early August, causing him to miss more than six weeks of action. He returned right before the playoffs but was clearly hampered by the injury upon his return.
His future with the Indians became further complicated when he required surgery on the ankle after the season. Brantley is looking at up to five months of recovery time after the surgery, and so there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready for the start of spring training. With no assurance that Brantley can give the Indians a full season, no one would have blame them for passing on Brantley’s option and allocating that $12 million elsewhere.
However, the Indians decided that Brantley’s upside makes the $12 million worthwhile. When Brantley was healthy this season, he hit .299 with an OPS of .801. He was selected to the All-Star Team after a strong first half, which was a great accomplishment after a lost season in 2016. The Indians are no doubt banking that Brantley will return from his ankle surgery healthy and continue to be one of the more productive left fielders in baseball.
While his health does create some question marks, Brantley gives Cleveland’s outfield and middle of the lineup some stability. It’s possible that the Indians could lose both Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana to free agency. Those are two big holes to plug in the middle of the order. To not have Brantley back in 2018 in addition to Bruce and Santana would have created great uncertainty about what Cleveland’s lineup will look like next season.
Joining Brantley in Cleveland’s outfield next season will be Bradley Zimmer, Brandon Guyer, Tyler Naquin, Lonnie Chisenhall, Greg Allen, and possibly Jason Kipnis. That group doesn’t provide a lot of excitement offensively without Brantley in the mix. However, the Indians have enough depth to survive if they have to begin the season with Brantley on the DL for a few weeks.
It’s obvious that the Indians at least entertained the possibility of passing on Brantley’s option. But in the end it would have been difficult to part ways with their long-time star. With his recent history of health problems, there’s no guarantee Brantley can give the Indians a full, productive season in 2018. But for $12 million, he’s definitely worth the risk.