The road ahead just got bumpier for Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley, so bumpy that he may find himself on a new team in 2018.
According to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, Brantley had surgery on his right ankle yesterday to “stabilize ligaments” and will be out for the next four to five months before getting back on the field. That means he will likely miss most of spring training. Cleveland has the option to either pick up his $12m option for next season or pay a $1m buyout, and the choice should be obvious.
A promising start
Brantley came to the Indians from the Milwaukee Brewers in October 2008 as the player to be named later that was part of the CC Sabathia trade that summer, and he soon established himself as a prospect to watch. The lefty debuted in 2009 and hit .313 in 28 games, but struggled the following year and posted an unimpressive slash line of .242/.296/.327.
The Indians still saw Brantley’s value as both a fielder and contact hitter in spite of that and gave him another shot in 2011, and he continued to grow from there. It wasn’t long before he was a fixture at the top of Cleveland’s lineup and finding multiple ways to get on base. Save for a broken hand in 2011, he had few injury issues and played so well he received a four-year, $25m extension prior to the 2014 season.
2014 proved to be the best year of Brantley’s career as he hit .327 with a career-high 20 home runs, 97 RBI, and 23 stolen bases. Brantley was also honored as an American League All-Star that summer and capped a 6.8 WAR season by finishing third in AL MVP voting.
The wheels fall off
Brantley played in only 137 games in 2015 after offseason shoulder surgery and though he led the majors with 45 doubles, he would require another operation following the season. This proved to be the start of the once-promising contact hitter’s decline.
Multiple setbacks following that second operation kept him out of all but eleven games in 2016, leaving him off of the Indians’ playoff roster. An ankle injury limited him to 90 this past season. Though Brantley hit .299 with nine home runs and 52 RBI, he was not himself for much of the year and was just 1 for 11 in Cleveland’s truncated postseason.
He’s still only 30 years old, but it’s clear what the Indians need to do.
Time to move on
The Indians really have no choice but to move on from Brantley. Between Bradley Zimmer, Jason Kipnis’s new home in center field, and speedy prospect Greg Allen, it makes more sense for Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff to just pay the $1m buyout rather than pick up a $12m option and gamble on what is now three consecutive years’ worth of injury-shortened seasons ending.
Not only that, but Brantley is unlikely to be more than a 3-3.5 WAR player at this point in his career and while that number isn’t bad, it doesn’t exactly scream greatness. Cleveland’s roster right now is one that can compete for the AL Pennant for the foreseeable future, so it doesn’t really make sense to hang on to Brantley if he will not be at his best.
It’s a shame that such a bright tenure will come to such an end but if the Indians are serious about competing in 2018 and beyond, that road includes making hard decisions. This means moving on from Brantley, plain and simple, and reinvesting the money saved in a more effective option.
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