The Cleveland Indians announced on Friday that they were exercising the team options for Michael Brantley and Josh Tomlin.
At $3 million, keeping Tomlin was a no-brainer as he’s been solid for the club for a number of years and at that price tag it’s a steal.
When it came to Brantley’s $12 million dollar option, I’m sure the organization took the time to assess the positives and negatives on paying Brantley.
Almost four years ago, the Indians gave Brantley a four year, $25 million dollar extension. Brantley lived up to the contract in the 2014 season hitting .327 with 20 home runs, 97 runs batted in and 23 stolen bases en route to a 3rd place finish in MVP voting.
The 2015 season was just as productive hitting .310 with 15 home runs, 84 runs batted in and 15 stolen bases before a shoulder injury ended his season early and limited his 2016 campaign to just 11 games.
Brantley had a strong comeback going in 2017 starting off with a walkoff base hit in the home opener. He was selected to his second All-Star Game after a strong first half of the season.
Unfortunately, the injury bug once again hit Brantley in August with an ankle injury. He missed almost two months with the injury before returning in late September.
He made the playoff roster but was a non-factor for the Indians as their 2-0 lead collapsed and eventually lost to the Yankees in 5 in the ALDS.
Brantley underwent surgery on his ankle in mid-October and will be out 4-5 months which puts him at a mid-February to mid-March return to the field.
After the season ended, I did write that the team should part ways with Brantley as it seemed like his career is now heading down the same path as Grady Sizemore’s did after his number of injuries.
Indians president Chris Antonetti told reporters that historical data tells them Brantley will have a successful recovery and return to form once he’s cleared to play.
If the Indians had declined the option and asked Brantley to take a cut in salary, there’s a good chance that Brantley would’ve been able to get that money back on the open market as a free agent.
When he’s healthy, there’s no question he’s one of the best outfielders in baseball. His health is a major question though as he’s played in 101 of a possible 323 games over the last two seasons.
That $12 million also could’ve helped the Indians retain other free agents such as Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce who will be sought after by teams once they can talk to other teams after Monday.
However, the Indians can open up salary by moving players such as Jason Kipnis ($13.6 million) and Yan Gomes ($6 million) in order to keep Santana and Bruce.
The team had to keep Brantley though because he’s one of the veteran leaders in the clubhouse who was there for the tough times when the Indians were rebuilding and he was one of the main building blocks.
When also looking at the current outfield for next season which is obviously incomplete considering the offseason just began consists of Brandon Guyer, Abraham Almonte, Tyler Naquin, Bradley Zimmer and Lonnie Chisenhall.
Next season will be a big test for Brantley to prove he can stay healthy as the 30 year old could be looking his only big contract of his career this time one year from now.
If he can stay healthy and have an All-Star type season, he could be looking at a large contract close to $100 million. If he has an injury plagued season, he’ll end up like Sizemore making closer to the minimum.