On the surface, the phrase “Cleveland Indians pick up option of 2017 All-Star Michael Brantley” sounds like a blatantly obvious move to make. However, when the Tribe went through with this decision over the offseason, it was met with heavy skepticism.
I was one of those skeptics. I still am, even despite Brantley’s impressive start to the 2018 season. While he’s certainly making Cleveland look smart for picking up his option, it’s still too early to call said move a win.
To be clear, my hesitation to praise the Indians for picking up Brantley’s option is in no way a slight on him and what he’s been doing so far this year. Currently batting .331 and contributing 29 RBIs (19 of which have come this month), he’s easily one of the bright spots during Cleveland’s early-season struggles. The team was wise to move him up to the top of the lineup, sandwiching him between Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez to create a devastating 1-2-3 punch for the offense.
Yet you still won’t find me eating crow for my doubting the decision to pick up his $12 million option this winter. At least not right now.
The reason for this is easy to explain. I wasn’t concerned about retaining Brantley because of what he can offer on the field. Instead, I was worried about how long he’s spent off of it over the past two years.
The last time Brantley played over 100 games in a single season was 2015. He spent all but eleven games of the 2016 campaign dealing with nagging shoulder injuries which required two separate surgeries. He rebounded last year, earning his second All-Star nod, before a sprained ankle sidelined him for two months.
This last bit was the reason why Cleveland was called out for re-upping Brantley to begin with. He was coming off another significant injury, one which again required offseason surgery. Knowing he’d been under the knife three times in two years, and with other holes on the roster needing to be filled, it was highly questionable to instead commit $12 million to a player who’s been struggling to stay healthy.
This perspective is necessary when it comes to addressing some premature congratulations for the Indians and their offseason leap of faith.
What Brantley is providing to the team this year can’t be understated. At the same time, he was productive enough in the first half of last season to earn an All-Star bid. To me, we can’t heap praise towards the Tribe until he can give this kind of production and survive the entire year.
Is anyone going to be laughing at skeptics if Brantley endures another significant injury later in the season? If he’s a $12 million contract sitting on the DL come August, will “he had a great few months” be enough of a defense to make the Indians look smart for picking up his option?
My guess is no, especially since this is exactly what happened last year. Brantley had a great first half, sprained his ankle, didn’t look remotely healthy when reactivated for the postseason and eventually required surgery to address the sprain.
When the Indians still re-upped him for 2018, nobody was defending it by pointing towards his productive first half of the previous season. Instead, doubters (myself included) wondered if investing such a sizable amount of salary in a player who’s only played a combined 101 games over the past two years was a good idea.
Just to clarify, should Brantley survive the entire season and continue putting up these numbers at the plate, I’ll happily admit I shouldn’t have doubted the team. Hell I’ll even dedicate a column to how wrong I was.
The time to do this isn’t in May, though. It’s ten – or *fingers crossed* ten and a half — months from now.
Until we get to that point, I’ll still remain hesitant about retaining Brantley for another season.