Posted on October 19, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The injuries and the surgeries keep piling up for outfielder Michael Brantley. His latest one may even end his tenure with the Cleveland Indians. The club announced Thursday that Brantley underwent ankle surgery on Wednesday, one week after the team’s season came to an end in the ALDS. The surgery performed is designed to stabilize the ligaments in Brantley’s ankle and could keep the all-star left fielder on the sidelines for up to five months.
Brantley was plagued by a shoulder injury throughout the 2016 campaign that prevented him from being part of Cleveland’s World Series run. However, he worked his way back and was an all-star in 2017, only for the injury bug to bite him again during the second half of the season. On August 9, Brantley went on the DL with a sprained ankle, an injury that would plague him the rest of the season.
Without Brantley, the Indians won 22 straight games late in the season and finished the regular season with the best record in the American League. Brantley worked hard to come back from the ankle injury the final weekend of the season, making him available for the postseason. But he was clearly hindered by the injury. In the ALDS, Brantley was just 1 for 11, a disappointing way to end his season.
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With Brantley needing four months, possibly longer, until he can resume baseball activities, his future with the Indians is now in question. Brantley has an $11 million option for the 2018 season. Cleveland can also decline the option and give him a $1 million buyout. With his recent injury history, that’s an option the Indians may give serious consideration.
The best-case scenario for Brantley is that he’s able to resume baseball activities at the start of spring training. But there’s no guarantee that will happen. It may be deep into March until he’s ready to begin spring training activities. Do the Indians want to guarantee $11 million to a player who may not be able to give them a full season? Or would it be worthwhile to take a chance on a player who can play at an all-star level when healthy?
On the season, Brantley hit .299 with an OPS of .801. That production could be difficult to replace, especially with Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce also hitting free agency. The Indians could exercise Brantley’s option to protect them in case they can’t re-sign Santana or Bruce. Of course, they could also save $10 million by declining Brantley’s option and use it toward signing Santana or Bruce, both of whom would be more of a sure thing to contribute to the Indians in 2018.
It’s also important for the Indians to consider their other outfield options. Even if they lose both Brantley and Bruce, Brandon Guyer, Tyler Naquin, and Lonnie Chisenhall are all viable outfield options. The same can be said for youngsters Bradley Zimmer and Greg Allen. Jason Kipnis could also factor into the outfield after playing center field during the postseason.
The Indians are no doubt facing a tough decision when it comes to bringing back Brantley in 2018 following ankle surgery. The team’s emotional connection may urge them to keep him and see if he can come back from another serious injury. But the smarter move may be to let Brantley go after all the injuries he’s endured over the past three seasons.